Trigger Warning: This book and it’s review discuss the following: abuse, mental illness, rape, depression, suicide, death.
Goodreads Rating: 3 Stars
She’s Come Undone is one heck of an emotional roller-coaster. Main character Dolores takes us through her life, from one catastrophic event to the next. First, her parent’s abusive relationship. Then the death of her baby brother. Then her mother goes into a mental hospital. And her father cheats. Then her parents divorce. She eventually is moved to her grandmother’s home, away from the one friend she had made, and is forced to endure the teenage years alone. All of this is just the base of which Dolores builds her life, and as you can guess, it’s a rocky foundation. She’s depressed, she’s consoling herself with food and television, and she’s isolating herself from everyone with harsh defensive mechanisms. Taking place between the 1950’s and 1980’s, there is very little support for the circumstances and situations that Dolores is dealing with, and what support she does find comes with the price of a negative connotation.
It seems like it would be easy to pity or empathize with Dolores, but to me, for most of the book, she is an unlikable main character- which I believe is exactly what Lamb wanted his readers to think. Every time something bad happens to Dolores, she acts or lashes out, sinking into her depression and the mindset that she is alone, unloved, and unworthy. Even when someone helps her and shows her differently, she pushes them away. Parallel with the story, when Dolores lashes out, Lamb pushes away the reader intentionally- but just when you think that you’ve had enough of this book, something else keeps you reading.
It’s complex and I’m not sure if I’m explaining it eloquently enough, but to me, that’s where the power in this book is. It’s an excellent account of someone who has struggled their whole life with mental instability, with abuse, and with self-worth. It’s raw, turbulent, and emotional. Somewhere in the middle of the book, I turned my dislike for Dolores around, and was silently hoping that she would be able to stand up for herself by the book. By the end, I was smiling at the pages, glad that Dolores learns how to love and be loved.
However, I still don’t think I loved this book. Even though it was powerful, I still struggled overall with the read. I personally resent the amount of disgust shown for Dolores’ weight, and the comparisons to a beached whale. I get that that adds to her difficulties and kicks the girl when she’s down, and that it represents a lot of what our culture thinks and says about fatness, and I realized that this book was written way before the body positivity movement- but it still managed to tick me off many times. If you want a reason why, shoot me a message and I’ll get into it there. I also hated that once she was skinny, it made her more worthy of love. I also know that Dolores’ mental issues, the whole “come undone” part of the title, was a struggle that the reader went along for the ride with, but I just felt so uncomfortable there with her, like I shouldn’t be witnessing what I was.
In conclusion, I would recommend this book to others, but only if I really knew the person I was recommending it to, and I don’t think I’ll be rereading it. I understand why so many people recommended it, because it is so powerful, but can’t say that it became a new favorite.
Published: June 28, 1998
TL/DR: She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb is novel about a woman who, throughout the stages of her life, struggles with depression, grief, and her past.
Read it? Yes, though it’s emotionally difficult to read.
Recommend it? Yes but with caution- the book’s content is rather heavy.
Buy it? This is a backlist bestseller, so it’s easy to find a secondhand copy for your shelves, if you’d like your own.
If you liked this novel or review, check out these similar reads:
- The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
- The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
- It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini