Crib death and schizophrenia would hardly seem the building blocks of great fiction, but those are exactly what Lamb makes them in this follow-up to his bestselling first novel, 1992's She's Come Undone. Lamb's new work is a gratifying saga of loss and redemption. A few years after his newborn daughter's death, 34-year-old Dominick Birdsey has seen both his marriage and his teaching career go south. And his girlfriend, a twice-divorced 23-year-old with a shoplifting habit, is resentful of the promise Dominick made to his mother before she died—that he would always look out for his identical twin brother, Thomas, a paranoid schizophrenic.
As the novel opens, Dominick is fighting off a frenzy of reporters clamoring for Thomas, who hacked off his right hand to protest the Gulf War. Soon enough Thomas is committed to a maximum-security facility. Through Dominick's own commitment—to his brother—he can face and forgive his own failures, and we can believe Lamb's ending, one that would have seemed impossible at the outset but feels wholly right by the time we finish, 897 remarkable pages later. (Regan Books, $27.50)
Bottom Line: Inspiring tale (and you thought your family had troubles...)