To write what you know, as the old maxim says, is good. But to write successfully about something you cannot possibly know is brilliant. And that’s exactly what Wally Lamb has done in his first novel, the New York Times bestseller, She’s Come Undone.

Lamb’s stunning 1992 entry into the literary spotlight deals with a broad range of issues with depth and without judgment, exposing the corners of the human soul as it deals with abandonment, rape, guilt, rites of passage, obesity, death, forgiveness, and finally, hope through the delicate perspective of a female character.

She’s Come Undone, which also made it to Oprah’s Book Club list, follows the life of Dolores Price, from her early childhood memories of her family’s first television to her mid-30s’ desperation for children, weaving you down, up, over, around, and through the tragedies and triumphs of her life. Dolores’ life contains one trial after another, sometimes leaving the reader struggling to see a way out for the imperfect heroine. It is only as we journey deeper into the novel that we begin to realize the full weight of Dolores’ initial warning, “Mine is a story of craving: an unreliable account of lusts and troubles that began, somehow, in 1956 on the day our free television was delivered.”

Beginning with her parents’ separation and being raped at 13, Dolores embarks on a downward spiral through her teenage years, eating away her guilt and entering adulthood at 257 pounds. At the end of high school, horrifically overweight and already withdrawn from society, Dolores is then confronted with her mother’s death in a freak accident.

This is just the beginning of Dolores’ troubles, their effects unraveling throughout the remainder of the story. Indeed, this novel is not for the faint-hearted or weak-minded. At times, it’s difficult not to flick forward pages in search of a glimmer of hope for the main character. Nevertheless, Lamb manages to weave some semblance of strength into Dolores’ character, saving us from feeling completely distraught over the poor girl’s fate.

Lamb’s close connection with his characters is evident in the voice he gives each one. In an interview with The Book Report’s Judy Handschuh, Lamb admitted that he doesn’t control his characters — in fact, quite the opposite. “People always say, ‘But you’re in control of what happens.’ That’s not true,” he explained. “I start with a character’s voice, and that voice leads me into the story. I never know where I’m going, and getting into the character leads me into realizing the story. Sometimes I try to put them on safer paths or have them make better choices. But whenever I do that, my writing becomes hollow. So I’ve learned to let them go their own way, and just wait to see what happens.”

Lamb has an uncanny knack for accurately depicting the tumultuous experience of obesity, which lends a genuine depth to his novel. Dolores’ early depression and attempts to eat her way out of sorrow result in a vicious cycle of gluttony and despair lasting well into her 20s. The ridicule she suffers, particularly once she enters a university, serves as sharp criticism of people’s insensitivity to overweight people. Dolores endures constant taunts and blatant mockery from her peers, and even her so-called “friends.”

Even though Lamb’s novel is 15 years old, the issue of the social ridicule and alienation of the overweight still resonates strongly today. According to a 2003-2004 survey by the United States Department of Health and Human Services, 32.9 percent of North Americans were classified as suffering from obesity — more than double the 1980 record of 15 percent. She’s Come Undone deals with the extreme nature of obesity from a personal perspective, allowing the reader a glimpse at the often forgotten and overlooked psychological difficulties involved.

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