I seem to be on a tip of reading books whose characters I don’t like, but still care about at the moment, as Dolores, the narrator and hero of ‘She’s come undone’ is one of the most unlikable people I’ve ever had the pleasure to imagine. Set somewhere in mid 20th Century America, this is a tale of a girl who’s life is shattered by the adults around her.
In many ways, as a parent, it’s a fairly useful study in how not to parent – they consistently get things wrong and as a result, Dolores grows up to be lonely, obese, bitter and fairly twisted. What is also interesting though is that the assumption that the parents are getting it wrong is made from the viewpoint of an angry teenager. She comes to realise in her later life that some of the time, her mother and Grandmother especially, were just doing what they could. Y’know, not parenting the shit out of life but still doing their level best. Sound familiar?
Wally Lamb is a man (I’m such a poet), and yet he has somehow got inside the mind of this teenage misfit and his portrayal of a girl in crisis is uncanny. There’s an author’s note at the beginning in which he says that the novel started out as a short story but somehow this character kept coming to him and almost demanded to be created. Is this true? Or is this an author’s humble brag about just being gifted enough to write these stories where the characters seem alive? And if it is true, how do you find the characters and their stories that want to be written? Do you hunt for them or do they find you? Lamb seems to think that Dolores and her life found him. I live in hope that such a thing will happen to me one day and in the meantime will continue to read these sorts of books, as a form of inspiration and as a masterclass in how to make these sorts of socially challenging observations feel real and relevant.
‘She’s come undone’ is a very pleasing (if often uncomfortable) account of how someone as messed up as Dolores manages to find her way to relative peace with all the baggage that’s been hoisted on her from a young age, by all the adults in her life. A really good read.