I Know This Much is True
by Wally Lamb
Book Review by Amy Coffin
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Dominick Birdsey has had quite a life. He has spent most of it invisibly attached to his identical twin brother, Thomas.

As children, Dominick and Thomas lived with their mother Concettina, and stepfather, Ray. They did not know their father. Their mother wouldn't tell them who he was.

Ray was very abusive and Concettina took it all as thought she deserved it. Thomas took the brunt of the twins' abuse because he was more sensitive and effeminate. Ray didn't like that and did awful things to make Thomas more of a man.

While in college, Dominick noticed that Thomas acted strange sometimes. Thomas continued to fall apart until it was revealed that he was schizophrenic.

Now, Dominick was the "normal" twin. Through adulthood, he continued to visit Thomas in hospitals and special homes.

Dominick's adult life has been a difficult one. He lives with the guilt of being healthy, while Thomas is nuts. Dominick gets married, loses a child to SIDS and then loses his wife. Their marriage just can't survive such stress. Dominick's closed frame of mind doesn't help the situation.

Just as Dominick settles into a regular single life, he receives word that Thomas has purposely injured himself in the public library. Instead of being returned to his regular psychiatric hospital, Thomas is sent to a hard institution for crazy criminals. Now, Dominick must fight the government to try and get Thomas in a safe place so he can get the help he needs.

As is these tragedies aren't enough, Dominick also faces the lives of his ancestors. His grandfather, Domenico, wrote his memoir of his life in Italy and America. After finishing the last page, he keeled over and died of a stroke. Dominick must also cope with the unpleasant events of the past. His grandfather's story is written in Italian. Dominick decides to find a translator to see if the story holds any clues to his past and his real father.

Despite all the different characters and events, this is really Dominick Birdsey's story. He tries desperately to cope with everything as the world falls in around him. He examines his own life to see if he can place any blame on himself. He is distant. He is arrogant. He is so busy feeling sorry about the past that he doesn't see how he can change his future.

In time, he sees through the clouds. It is this entire discovery process that is contained in I Know This Much is True.

Wally Lamb has written an intense book here. Subjects covered include mental illness, physical abuse, rape, murder, suicide, self-mutilation, love, betrayal, SIDS, HIV, and AIDS. Though these topics are emotionally draining, Mr. Lamb weaves them into an interesting tale. Don't be afraid to conquer the subject matter.

The characters are interesting, especially the two bothers as different as night and day. Born only minutes apart, they actually arrived in this world during different years, in the last minutes of December 31 and the first minutes of January 1. We get to see what Dominick feels because this is his story. However, there is a little glimpse of Thomas allowed as well. Though he is sick, he is still human. He can't help the way he feels and what he believes to be real.

I Know This Much is True is a heavy book, literally and figuratively. It is a solid 900+ pages in hardback form. However, Mr. Lamb kept my interest from the very first page. There are lots of flashbacks including Dominick's childhood, his mother's youth and his grandfather's life. These events flow smoothly together and don't deter from the story line.

I was very impressed with Mr. Lamb's portrayal of Thomas as a schizophrenic patient. His actions and reactions are very believable. Having a loved one with a mental illness is difficult for any family to endure. Mr. Lamb shows this world of the schizophrenic in a very respectful, honest manner.

What I liked most about I Know This Much is True was how the story felt complete at the end. There were many issues introduced in the story, and I was pleased to see them all resolved. I felt emotionally drained, yet satisfied as I turned the final page.

I have also read Mr. Lamb's first novel She's Come Undone, which focuses on the life of one interesting girl and all her problems. It is a very good book and I recommend it to everyone. However, I thought I Know This Much is True was slightly better. That's just my preference, though.

Would I recommend this book to you? Heck yes! The plot is very unique. The characters are interesting and the subject matter is challenging. Read it when you have no distractions as I Know This Much is True will command every bit of your attention.

This book was a 1998 selection of Oprah's Book Club