For "How Do I Love These Books? Let Me Count the Ways" I’ll be revisiting the first times I read books I love and reflecting on what connects me so strongly to those books.
“I never said I was loveable. Never said I wasn’t a son of a bitch.”--Domenick Birdsey in I Know This Much Is True
I’m going to have to be a little bit clinical to get through this post about I Know This Much Is True, because the connection I have with the novel is so personal and painful that I can’t get too far into it without sounding hyperbolic or losing the point of this exercise. The first few times I started this post I burst into tears and had to abandon it. So all I’ll say is that I read it during a homesick first semester at college and that my own family rivals Dominick Birdsey’s as far as the darker issues go. I will also say that this is my favorite novel by far. I have books that I love, buy, re-read, and recommend to friends, but this book is a million miles away from those.
I love the language in this book. The descriptions are haunting; the emotions are raw and on the surface; and the alternating voices of Domenick the child, the young man, and in the present (with a lengthy cameo by Domenick’s grandfather Domenico) are flawlessly executed. The meandering of the story as Domenick goes about his ruptured daily life, dipping from time to time into his memory, is as natural as conversation.
This book makes me hurt. A lot. The horrible things in Domenick’s past make for tough reading and remind me of times of my own suffering. But if the book had only been sad or dark I wouldn’t call it my favorite today. The novel ends with hope, an upward trajectory out of the past. When I read the last line I wept with relief at the pure notion of possibility. Now just the first pages are enough to get me teary-eyed. Wally Lamb has written a beautiful story weaved within it a message I sorely needed when I first read it that still resonates with me today—I am not alone. Be steady, be patient, work to be a better person, and you may always have hope.
The characters are real and whole, they make terrible mistakes but strive for goodness. They do what they think is right. They learn by going where they have to go. Reading it exposes old wounds to the air, but in doing so it keeps them from festering and reminds me of the potential for healing. I love this book like I love some people. And that is really all I can say about it.