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In this long-winded successor to Lamb's She's Come Undone (1992), the novel that created much ballyhoo after being named an Oprah book, 40-year-old housepainter Dominick is facing many obstacles to happiness. He doesn't know who his real father is, his own marriage is defunct, and his current relationship with the woman in his life is tricky. However, these problems pale in comparison to the much bigger situation he has to deal with: his schizophrenic twin brother, Thomas. Having already presented Dominick with a lifetime of problems, Thomas has now mutilated himself; he severed his own hand out of some misplaced notion of religious sacrifice and political protest. Interspersed with the narrative history of the many awful situations Thomas' mental instability has forced the two to face over the years is the story of the twins' grandfather, whom Dominick learns about from the old man's memoir. Through the help of a counselor, Dominick comes to realize that the manuscript can be read as a "parable of failure" that can teach him how to get free of an abiding self-pity. The reader aches for Dominick to find peace, but this empathy is certainly tested over the novel's many, many pages. This overly long story would have been more pungent in a more succinct form. But expect high demand from the many readers of the author's previous novel. --Brad Hooper
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In his second novel (after She's Come Undone, LJ 5/1/92), Lamb details the pain and perversions of generations of dysfunctional families in the struggle between twin brothers at midlife. The Birdsey brothers are as different in nature as they are identical in appearance: Thomas, the sweet one, favors their meek, harelipped mother, while Dominick is strong and angry like the Sicilian grandfather for whom he was named. When paranoid schizophrenic Thomas, believing himself an agent of God, cuts off his right arm in the public library to try to avert war in the Persian Gulf, DominickÄhis love for Thomas tainted by guilt and resentmentÄonce again becomes his brother's protector. But the psychologist treating Thomas sees Dominick as the twin who might be saved, and together they examine Dominick's childhood with a bullying stepfather, the marriage that failed after the death of an infant daughter, and the newly recovered autobiography of his grandfather. Lamb's craftsmanship and characterizations are exceptional, but this litany of suffering is overwhelming, leavened only slightly by the last few pages, and the ongoing analysis leaves little for thoughtful readers to ponder or discuss. Fine work, relentless in its effect.ÄMichele Leber, Fairfax Cty. P.L., Arlington, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
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This much is true for sure: Lamb's second novel (after the bestselling, Oprah-selected She's Come Undone) is a hefty read. Some may be daunted by its length, its seemingly obsessive inclusion of background details and its many digressions. The topics it unflinchingly exploresÄmental illness, dysfunctional families, domestic abuseÄare rendered with unsparing candor. But thanks to well-sustained dramatic tension, funky gallows humor and some shocking surprises, this sinuous story of one family's dark secrets and recurring patterns of behavior largely succeeds in its ambitious reach. The narrative explores the theme of sibling responsibility, depicting the moral and emotional conundrum of an identical twin whose love for his afflicted brother is mixed with resentment, bitterness and guilt. Narrator Dominick Birdsey, once a high-school history teacher and now, at 40, a housepainter in upstate Connecticut, relates the process that led to his twin Thomas's schizophrenic paranoia and the resulting chaos in both their lives. The book opens with a horrific scene in which Thomas slices off his right hand, declaring it a sacrifice demanded by God. Flashbacks illuminate the boys' difficult childhoods: illegitimate, they never knew their father; diffident, gentle Thomas was verbally and physically abused by their bullying stepfather, who also terrorized their ineffectual mother. Scenes from the pivotal summer of 1969, when Dominick betrayed Thomas and others in crucial ways, are juxtaposed with his current life: his frustrating relationship with his scatterbrained live-in, Joy; his enduring love for his ex-wife, Dessa; his memories of their baby's death and of his mother's sad and terrified existence. All of this unfolds against his urgent need to release Thomas from a mental institution and the psychiatric sessions that finally force Dominick to acknowledge his own self-destructive impulses. Lamb takes major risks in spreading his narrative over more than 900 pages. Long stretches are filled with the raunchy, foul-mouthed humor of teenaged Dominick and his friends. Yet the details of working-class life, particularly the prevalence of self-righteous male machismo and domestic brutality, ring absolutely true. Though the inclusion of a diary written by the twins' Sicilian immigrant grandfather may seem an unnecessary digression at first, its revelations add depth and texture to the narrative. Lastly, what seems a minor subplot turns out to hold the key to many secrets. In tracing Dominick's helplessness against the abuse of power on many levels, Lamb creates a nuanced picture of a flawed but decent man. And the questions that suspensefully permeate the novelÄthe identity of the twins' father; the mystery of the inscription on their grandfather's tomb; the likelihood of Dominick's reconciliation with his ex-wifeÄcontribute to a fully developed and triumphantly resolved exploration of one man's suffering and redemption. BOMC main selection; author tour; simultaneous audio. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved