She's Come Undone
"Mine is a story of craving: an unreliable account of lusts and troubles that began, somehow, in 1956 on the day our first television was delivered..."— Dolores Price, She's Come Undone
She's Come Undone is a deeply affecting, often hilarious novel that centers around one of the most extraordinary characters in recent American fiction: wisecracking, ever-vulnerable Dolores Price, whose life we follow through her fortieth year. When we first meet Dolores in 1956, she is four years old, innocently unaware that the delivery of a television set will launch her tumultuous personal odyssey.
Through one thousand and one television nights, Dolores feeds herself the fantasies of melodramas and sitcoms and tries to understand the many faces of love and betrayal: her father, driven by lust and longing to leave his family; her mother, an emotionally fragile woman who battles mental illness; Grandma Holland, lace-curtain decent, peppery and proud, aching with unspoken feelings; and Jack Speight, the handsome upstairs neighbor whose ultimate betrayal will throw Dolores' life severely, nearly permanently, off-course.
What follows — obesity, sexual ambiguity, self-delusion, and madness — is the precursor to a radiant rebirth. It is not without labor pains, this new awakening. A surrogate family that includes an ancient Polka Queen disc jockey suffering from Parkinson's disease, the 6' 10" proprietor of Existential Drywall (motto: Responsible Work for Authentic Individuals") and her former high school guidance counselor Mr. Pucci, helps Dolores find happiness in small moments.
As endearingly familiar as Chiquita Banana jingles, Hula-Hoops and I Love Lucy, as mysterious and haunting as the cries of whales, She's Come Undone makes us laugh and wince with recognition and reminds us that despite the pain we endure and cause, we must find the courage to love again.
She's Come Undone was chosen as a finalist for the 1992 Los Angeles Times Book Awards' Art Seidenbaum Prize for first fiction. It was named a notable book of the year by numerous publications, including The New York Times Book Review and People.
Wally Lamb is a nationally honored teacher, critically acclaimed writer and best-selling author. He lives in Connecticut with his wife and three sons.
Lamb is the recipient of the 1998 Governor's Arts Award, State of Connecticut, a past recipient of the NEA grant for fiction and is a Missouri Review William Peden fiction prize winner.
He was the director of the Writing Center at the Norwich Free Academy, Norwich, Connecticut from 1989 - 1998, and is currently an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Connecticut's English Department. He holds a B.A. and an M.A. in Education from the University of Connecticut and an M.F.A. in Writing from Vermont College.
His new book, I Know This Much is True, was released in June 1998.
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The suggested questions from Washington Square Press/Pocket Books are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for discussion in reading of Wally Lamb's, She's Come Undone . We hope the following discussion will enrich your enjoyment of the book.
- How does Dolores' life parallel her mother's and how does she ultimately triumph and move beyond her tie to her mother's failures?
- Discuss the significance of water in the novel - as a symbol of both Dolores' breaking points and eventual recovery.
- How is religion, particularly Catholicism, treated in the novel? Is it legitimate source of strength or simply another crutch to avoid dealing with the real problems in Dolores' family?
- Death, in many forms, frequently occurs in the novel. What is the impact of death on Dolores and is she ever able to move beyond the initial tragedy of her baby brother's death?
- Throughout her life, no matter where she is, Dolores always feels like an outsider. What perspective of reality dictates her actions - is Dolores misguided or is she a victim of her circumstances?
- How is Dolores' sexuality used to reflect her voyage in society? Is her path in life guided by her dysfunctional relationships with men, beginning with her father, or are the men in her life simply potholes in her quest to search for her identity?
- Dolores' earliest memory revolves around the day her family received their first television set. Discuss the prevalence of popular culture in the novel, both in the shaping of Dolores' identity and the world she lives in.
- Whether talented or not, many characters in the novel express themselves through some sort of art. Does "art imitate life" or does "life imitate art," and how is art used to give life to the characters and their emotion?
- Dolores frequently encounters people in her life who mirror family members who have disappointed her over the years. What is the role of the family and how does Dolores ultimately compensate for her losses through her relationships with caring outsiders?
- Dolores is both adored and loathed for her unconventional appearance. How is body image treated in the novel and how does it affect Dolores' growth and placement in society? Is her problem with social assimilation unique to her experience or a symptom of our society's definition of beauty?
- Discuss the significance of Dolores' mother's flying leg painting. Her mother is killed before she really gets a chance to fly -— what facilitates Dolores' ability to finally accept her mother's failures and create her own wings to fly towards a better future?
- Much of the attention of She's Come Undone has focused on a male writer's ability (or inability) to write authentically in the voice of a female character. What other make fiction writers of the present and/or the past have experimented with women's "voices?" What female writers have written in the voice of males? Is it appropriate for fiction writers to give themselves such "gender-bending" assignments? Is it politically correct? Is it a more socially acceptable task for writers of one gender than for the other?
- Wally Lamb has described "good literature" as writing that explores the imperfections of the world and "kicks readers in their pants, shakes them out of their complacency about a world that needs fixing." Do you agree or disagree with this definition? How does it apply to She's Come Undone ?
We want to know what you think of this book! Read the suggestions for writing a review below, then post your review on the She's Come Undone Review message board. Bookmark this page and check back here often to see if your review has been featured!
1. How did this book touch your life? Can you relate to it on any level? What do you believe is the message the author is trying to convey to the reader?
2. Describe the character development in She's Come Undone. How does Wally Lamb use language and imagery to bring the characters to life?
3. In your opinion, is the book entertaining? Explain why or why not.
4. What did you learn from this book? Was it educational in any way?
5. In conclusion, summarize your reading experience with She's Come Undone. What grade would you give this novel?
6. If you enjoyed this book, what other books would you recommend to fellow readers?
Above all else, have a good time putting your thoughts and opinions down in print! The best reviews are those that you would like to listen to or would give a friend.
"A People Magazine Top-Ten Book of The Year. A New York Times Notable Book of The Year. A Los Angeles Times Book Award Finalist — Best First Novel of The Year."
— The New York Times
"Mr. Lamb gives his vociferous heroine truly heroic proportions, in both the physical and the psychical sense … John Updike once observed the J.D. Salinger loves some of his characters 'more than God loves them,' which might be said about Wally Lamb … Those characters are equally endearing to the reader, as Dolores Price is, even in her most self-deprecatory moments: this reader kept rooting for her to overcome all adversity and find peace and happiness."
— Hilma Wolitzer, The New York Times Book Review
"At a time when most of us could use a little personal moment of triumph, spending some time with Dolores is great therapy."
— Digby Diehl
"A heroine to cheer for … This supremely touching journey to adulthood may remind you of "The World According to Garp" and other sagas of emotional liberation."
"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 much a string of trials and tribulations can add up to such a touchingly funny book."
— People Magazine