November 07, 2021

BOOK REVIEW : 'She's Come Undone' by Wally Lamb

I'm actually late getting this up; this was my October pick for the Friends-themed read-athon that I am participating in this year. (You can find the details on this blog post: 'The One Where Friends Meets Reality').

The theme for October was:

Monica: "Now, I need you to be careful and efficient. And remember, if I am harsh with you, it's only because you're doing it wrong." Read a book with a strong female lead.

I had no idea what book to pick, and I was down to just a few days left in October before I finally realized I'd better get started. I actually looked through the books I already had and ended up picking 'She's Come Undone' by Wally Lamb; I read it before, but it was a very long time ago (when Oprah raved about it for her book club).

It's really interesting how much my thoughts about the book have changed since then; I've been through quite a bit in the last 15 years!

First, the general synopsis. WARNING: I am going to post what *might* be considered a spoiler or two, but I don't believe they are. An incident happens in the first 25% of the book and the rest of the book is basically based around it. It's hard to even write what the book is about without saying it. So, if you don't want to read what may be considered a spoiler, then skip this post from here.

Also, I want to give a trigger warning about a few subject matters in the book: there are topics of domestic abuse, mental illness, rape, and eating disorders.

The protagonist is a young girl (in the beginning; at the end she's in her late 30's) named Dolores. She's an only-child, although her mom loses a baby boy during childbirth. This causes her mom to go into a deep depression and her parents' marriage is rocky. They get divorced and her dad leaves and starts a new family. This causes Dolores severe trauma because she had been very close with her dad and he all-but forgot about her when he left.

Her mom ends up going to a psychiatric hospital and Dolores goes to live with her grandmother. When her mom gets out of the hospital, she lives with them as well. At age 13, something horrific happens to Dolores: she is raped by someone she trusted.

From there, the book skips ahead to when she is finishing high school. After the rape, her mom felt really guilty about knowing the person who'd raped Dolores and desperately wanted to make Dolores feel better, so she showed her love with food--she bought Dolores all sorts of treats every day, hoping it would make her happy. Her weight gets up to 257 pounds after high school. Dolores blames herself for the rape and for another tragic event that happened the summer after high school; she then believes she deserves bad things to happen to her after that.

I'll stop here with the synopsis because then there really would be spoilers if I go on. When I first read this book, I LOVED it. I can't remember why I loved it so much, but it was one of my favorite books I'd ever read.

This time around, I still liked it but it didn't have the same effect as before.

Things I like about the book:

As unlikeable as Dolores is sometimes, I can't help but really like her. Considering all that she goes through, it's understandable why she does some of the things she does. I feel terrible for her! I wish I could have hugged her and told her that she did NOTHING to deserve being raped and that she's not the bad person she thinks she is.

I like that the timeline of the book spans a couple of decades rather than just a short time period in her life. Because of this, we get to see the "butterfly effect"...

The butterfly effect: we can see how one moment/choice/incident leads to enormous effects and consequences. I've always liked this philosophy when it has good effects. It's just really sad that Dolores's life was forever changed by terrible experiences; in her case, it started with her dad leaving and then by being raped at age 13. It makes you wonder how different she would be in so many ways if those things hadn't happened.

The topic of mental illness. The book takes place in the 1960's-80's (I believe Dolores was born around 1951-52, based on worldly things that were happening throughout) and mental illness was much more stigmatized than it is now (even now, there is a stigma, but back then, it was very hush-hush). Still, I liked that it was talked about.

Things I dislike about the book:

The biggest one is that Wally Lamb had NO CLUE about what "fat" means. Dolores is 257 pounds, but the way he describes her makes it sound like she should be in a circus freak show--for example, she can't fit into a Volkswagon; when she sits in a truck the entire truck slants under her weight; Lamb describes her "mounds of flesh" and "fat rolls" as if she is the size of a house. I was 253 pounds before I lost the weight, and yes--I was fat. But cars didn't sink under my weight and people didn't gawk at me like I was a zoo animal. I was treated badly, yes; called names, yes; but I still don't think it was anything like he described and Dolores was only 4 pounds heavier than me.

That said, however, I do take into consideration that this took place in the 1960's-80's, when it was much less common to be that size, and definitely not as accepted.

In retrospect, I think that's the only real dislike that I have about the book.

Lamb did a good job writing about topics as they would have been looked at from that time period: domestic abuse (back then, it was considered a "private family matter" that people didn't get involved in; mental illness (it was rarely talked about and getting a diagnosis/help was nothing like it is today); bias and even hatred of homosexuality (not to say that the bias doesn't still exist now--it certainly does--but the language and acceptance and education about it is different now); and the "fat" bias (again, it still exists and is terrible, but it's more common and accepted to be overweight now).

I realize I probably make this book sound completely unappealing! Heavy topics, doom and gloom, etc. It's not all like that--I would like to write more, but that would spoil it.

I used to have it on my "Top 10 Best Books I've Ever Read" list; but I just removed it because I just don't feel the same about it. I like to do a giveaway with books that I really love, but I can't say that I really love this one anymore. It's good. I'm glad I read it (twice). But it's not one I would read again.

If you're interested (even after that terrible description! haha) you can find the book here (Amazon affiliate link).

Now, for this month, the Friends-themed topic is:

"The One with All the Thanksgivings" - Read a book centered around family.

I've actually already made my pick and I've started reading it! I chose 'Educated' by Tara Westover. (Amazon affiliate link)

It was on a list when I googled "books about family". After reading what it was about, I searched my library website for the ebook; that's when I realized I'd seen it a million times on the site but I always ignored it because of the cover! Because of the name and the cover, it just made me think that it was a self-help book about education or something. I never even read what it was about. But it is apparently a wildly popular book--it has over 57,000 reviews on Amazon. Here is the publisher's description:

"Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, Tara Westover was 17 the first time she set foot in a classroom. Her family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent. When another brother got himself into college, Tara decided to try a new kind of life. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge University. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home."

I'm only a few chapters in, but I think I'm going to like it! It reads more like a novel than it does a memoir, and I like that. (I love memoirs, but I just haven't been in to them lately).

I've you've read 'She's Come Undone' I'm curious about your thoughts!


  1. I loved "She's come undone'. Wally Lamb writes so sensitively about mental health matters - not sure if you've read any of his other books. (I really enjoyed 'Educated' too - listened to that as an audiobook)

  2. I was working in a bookstore at the height of the "She's Come Undone" popularity, and I just never, ever got it. I read the book, but I thought it was pretty poorly written and unrealistic (also agree with your thoughts on the way Lamb writes about overweight women). I remember so many people saying it was remarkable that a man wrote from a woman's point of view, but when you rely on stereotypes and basic tropes it's not that amazing? So basically, not a fan, either!

    I re-read "Time Traveler's Wife" a few months ago and I felt similarly in the respect that I LOVED that book when it first came out, and now, 15 years later, it's...not good. It's actually really terrible! It's interesting how tastes and perspectives change.

  3. Educated is a crazy ride I picked it for my book club and for once we actually talked for hours about the book

  4. Just wondering if you could provide the link to your 10 best books list?

    1. Sure! It's on Goodreads: My Top 10 All-Time Favorite Books. I don't think it lists them in order, but the number to the left of the title is the spot that I ordered it. Right now, there are only nine books on the list! Haha--I have to go through my books to replace the spot for She's Come Undone.

  5. I read the book but don't remember it. It wasn't a book I liked enough to read more than once. I recently read his book "I'll take you there" it was okay. Another book written about women issues. I picked it up for a dollar at the Dollar Tree. I appreciate your book reviews since I do a lot of reading.

  6. It's interesting when you reread books. There's a few I won't reread for this very reason: I don't think I would see it through the same eyes. I have read I Know This Much is True at least twice, and that does hold up to a reread.

    I think about this sometimes when I come to something late, such as watching Hocus Pocus. I never saw Hocus Pocus as a kid and saw it for the first time last year. I really couldn't understand the love people have for that movie!


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