Picks and Pans Review: She's Come Undone
There are at least two surprises in store for readers of Lamb's memorable debut novel. One is the author's sex. This male writes so convincingly in the voice of a female, tracing her life from 4 to 40, that you have to keep looking back at the jacket picture just to make sure. The second surprise is how such a string of trials and tribulations can add up to such a touchingly funny book.
Narrator Dolores Price takes us back to Connecticut in the mid-'50s, where she's a bright, relatively normal little girl except for the antacid her mother gives her before school for her nervous stomach. Things don't get easier for her digestive tract. Ma loses the baby she has been eagerly awaiting; Dolores's philandering daddy leaves them; Ma has a nervous breakdown; and Dolores moves in with her proud and difficult grandmother. Hiding behind a wisecracking, cynical exterior, she becomes increasingly isolated.
When, at 13, she's raped by her friend, the sexy young tenant in her grandmothers house, Dolores further unravels. Burdened with self-hate, she adds another layer of protection as she eats her way into obesity and, eventually, a mental hospital. But that's only the first half of her life.
All of this Dolores describes with heartbreaking humor. Here she remembers when she was 10: "I was on the brown plaid sofa, watching TV and Scotch-taping my bangs to my fore-head because Jeanette said that kept them from drying frizzy. Across the room on the Barcalounger, my mother was having her nervous breakdown."
Lamb knows instinctively how much guilt an innocent girl can keep inside, how much cruelty a fat teenager can endure. And he shows us enough of that likable child that we keep rooting for her re-emergence, cringing each time she's about to self-destruct. She's Come Undone is as addictive as the Devil Dogs and Hostess Sno Balls Dolores gobbles nonstop—and a lot more rewarding. (Poeket Books Hardcover, $21)