I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb and A Writing Lesson

The Book: I’m home from New Jersey, back to serious work, and just finished reading this fantastic book. It had been gathering dust on my bookshelf for about a decade, ever since it was an Oprah pick way back when. At 900 pages, it simply wasn’t calling my name. I’m not sure what made me pick it up a couple of weeks ago, but I’m so glad I did. What a rewarding experience! 200px-WallyLamb_IKnowThisMuchIsTrue[1].jpgOf course it won’t be for everyone. John, who read it years ago, called it a “slog, but worth it in the end.” A writer friend didn’t like it at all. I, however, was engrossed from start to finish. It’s the story of identical adult male twins. One of them, Thomas, is psychotic , while the other–the story’s narrator, Dominick–is not. Dominick carves out his own identity through the course of the book, which slips seamlessly between present and past. Intriguing to me as the granddaughter of Sicilian immigrants was the autobiography of the twins’ grandfather, an abusive misogynist blow-hard who came to America around the time my grandparents did (I hasten to add, immigration from Sicily was the only thing my gentle grandfather had in common with this man!)  But one needn’t have Italian blood to be drawn in by the story. It reminded me of another of my favorite books, Pat Conroy’s Prince of Tides in both subject matter (twins, mental illness, dysfunctional family) and the narrator’s first person, angry male voice. Set in Connecticut, though, it lacks the low country’s atmosphere that colored Conroy’s story, but that’s made up for in the richness of character. Four and a half lighthouses.  The Writing Lesson: If you’re a new novel-writer looking to write a complex story, I Know This Much is True would be a great book to study. My suggestion would be to outline it, as I did with some of my favorite novels when I was teaching myself how to write. There are many different threads Lamb follows in the book, each of which could form a heading in your outline. Below that heading, explore the ways Lamb lets the reader know what is going on. Then examine the way he handles secrets (beautifully!) and revelations. Finally, study the characters, both major and minor, to see how he lets the reader come to know them. It’s not a perfect book. It should have been at least a hundred pages shorter. There is repitition, some of it almost word for word, as if Lamb didn’t trust the reader to remember what he’d already said. But I did not for a minute wish it to go faster. If you’ve read it, I’d love to know what you think.


  1. brenda on September 17, 2007 at 5:52 pm

    Read the book when it was Oprah’s. I agree with JOHN…long…but worth it.

  2. brenda on September 17, 2007 at 7:30 pm

    Judy Collins has written a great new book-coping with death…her son committed suicide in 1992 (the year from h…in my life…also)… It is a good book.

  3. Diane Chamberlain on September 17, 2007 at 8:50 pm

    Brenda, didn’t she already write a similar book about ten years ago?

  4. Cheryl on September 17, 2007 at 9:26 pm

    I read it years ago, and like you Diane, I was engrossed from start to finish.

  5. Diane Chamberlain on September 17, 2007 at 11:33 pm

    Cheryl et al, it was interesting (and a little spooky) reading it at this late date because of the references to “President George Bush’s misguided war in Iraq.”

  6. Margo on September 18, 2007 at 7:55 am

    Have not read this book Diane but have read PRINCE OF TIDES which I loved. I think I’ll take a look at it at the bookstore tomorrow. All the above comments have me intrigued.

  7. brenda on September 18, 2007 at 5:12 pm

    Yes-she did…but this is a new one…explaining how to cope…she is coming from the viewpoint of one who has gone through the grief and is now coping fairly well…
    PRINCE OF TIDES a good one…
    War in Iraq…when “we” wake up???

  8. Diane Chamberlain on September 19, 2007 at 11:04 pm

    Brenda, one of my favorite aspects about getting older is that the longer we live, the more we can learn. It would be interesting to know how Judy Collins has changed and grown in the years since she first wrote about her son.

  9. Kat on December 24, 2007 at 3:55 pm

    One of the best novels I have ever read, bought the book immeadiatly after it was published and have read it several times. Wally Lamb tells a great story.

  10. Diane Chamberlain on December 25, 2007 at 9:44 pm

    Kat, thanks for piping in. I know I’ll be reading this story again, too.

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