Who Do You Love, When You Come Undone? (She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb)

July 19, 2013 Coming of Age, Contemporary Fiction, Psychological 51

Happy Friday, Bookworms!

I’m seriously looking forward to sleeping in tomorrow. I stayed up way too late several nights this week reading She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb. I’m a jumble of confused emotion about this one, so I’m going to try and untangle my feelings and re-ravel my psyche. Ready?

This book has a whole lot going on. There are family issues, still births, miscarriages, rape, parental conflict, mental hospitals, extensive therapy, suicide attempts, Catholic school, stalking, abusive romantic entanglements, homosexuality, bullying, ostracism, death, loss, grief, illness, (takes a deeeeeeeeeeep breath) and obesity.


There’s a large segment of the book where Dolores, our protagonist, is severely overweight. I know what you’re thinking! “Katie has a hard time reading about obesity, it’s her book kryptonite!” That’s true. For whatever reason, I’m especially emotional when reading about extremely overweight characters. So often authors get caught up in graphic physical descriptions of obesity. I don’t care how realistic the prose, long descriptive passages always strike me as insensitive and make me want to cry. I HAVE ISSUES. I was pleasantly surprised by Lamb’s approach. He wasn’t oozing syrupy sympathy, but he wasn’t cruelly descriptive either. Instead of directly discussing Dolores’s size, the reader is allowed to absorb her situation by the way other characters react to her. Dolores has a number of heart wrenching encounters, one that culminates in her attempted suicide…

Can I just get on a soap box for a second? Being large is TOUGH. Whatever the factors cause a person to become obese and whatever your opinions on personal responsibility, there is no excuse for being MEAN. It’s like society believes (at least theoretically) in the golden rule, except when it comes to fat people. That’s all I’m going to say. I’ll get ranty and weepy if I continue. If everyone in the world would just try a little bit every day to not be an asshole? Maybe unicorns wouldn’t be so frightened to reveal their existence.

At the very end of the book, Dolores is listening to “Come Undone” on the radio. Lamb never specifies an artist, but I had Duran Duran stuck in my head while reading this. Certain songs just BELONG with certain books, you know?! Alright, I’ve gotten off topic again. I liked this book, I didn’t love it. It kind of exhausted me with the trauma upon tragedy upon cruelty, but it was a good solid read. I’d have no qualms recommending it to someone who was into psychology, traumatic life experiences, or family drama.

Has anybody else read this one? What did you think? Do you have a kryptonite topic?

51 Responses to “Who Do You Love, When You Come Undone? (She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb)”

  1. The Underground Writer

    I too stayed up waaaay to late at night absorbed in this book when I read it many moons ago. I stopped reading it after the “van scene” because (for me) it was officially too disturbing. That being said, if this had been a PG-13 book instead of a R, I would have finished it.

    • Words for Worms

      I’ve heard that same sentiment from several people who recommended this to me. I agree, I don’t want to sound all gender biased or whatever, but I think it’s pretty rare for a male author to tackle such deep psychological topics from a woman’s perspective… And pulling it off so well!

      • Jennifer's Journal

        Yes, he seemed to have genuine insight into the workings of a young female mind. It reinforced the idea for me to try writing from the point of view of a man, which I’ve since done in a short story. Why limit oneself to ones own gender? 🙂

  2. Andi (@estellasrevenge)

    Lamb does know how to pack A WHOLE LOTTA tragedy into one novel. I read this one and I started reading The Hour I First Believed, but that one was such a downer, I ditched.

  3. Jeannine G.

    I read this book soooo long ago I couldn’t even tell you the first thing about it. However, I’ve read most of Lamb’s work and of them all, this is the only one I remember nothing about. I liked “I Know This Much is True” and “The Hour I First Belived” better.

    But usually after some time has passed I can only remember the feeling I had while I read and not the why…so I can only say I like Wally Lamb. He has a new one coming in October 22nd called “We are Water.”

  4. lostinliterature108

    I haven’t read this one. I am always so glad to see you review something that I know is out there but I haven’t exactly committed to read. That way, I can just read your review and not feel obligated to put it on the official TBR list. It’s like you’re reading it for me. Thanks.:)

    On the obesity topic….here’s my take. Too many people in the world are just wrong about the way they view obesity. When a teenager would rather die than be fat, then a poor job has been done in showing them what is truly important in life. I do not buy into the lie that you cannot live a happy life, or that your life isn’t worth crap if you are overweight. I have been overweight all my life. Would I rather be skinny? Yes! Am I going to self destruct, stay away from the pool or otherwise not enjoy life cause I wear bigger pants than someone else? No!! There are a lot more important things in life than what we all look like on the outside.

    Sorry for tapping into your Kryptonite.

    • Words for Worms

      LOL don’t worry about the kryptonite, it sounds like we’re on the same page. I think there’s just less tolerance of obesity because people have the impression that it means big people are lazy or unwilling to change their habits. I’m just like… DUDE. Be nicer! Big people can have fantastic, fabulous, and interesting lives- don’t be the rain cloud that ruins that with a snide comment. You don’t know someone else’s journey, give the judgement a rest!

  5. Jennifer @ The Relentless Reader

    I read this one and I remember if was so emotional for me. I really ought to re-read it. It’s been so, so long. I felt so awful for that poor girl 🙁

  6. kristinshafel

    I agree with some other commenters: it has been at least 10 years since I read this one, probably longer. I can’t remember much about the plot/events… but yeah I do remember being emotionally rocked. I should re-read it. I liked I Know This Much is True and The Hour I First Believed better, and I’m looking forward to reading his new one later this year too.

  7. derb523622013

    Gosh, it’s been so many years since I read this one! It’s hard to remember all the plotlines and all the dysfunction. Fortunately, you did a good job in your review and a lot of it came back via your description. As someone who suffered all of my life with the problem of obesity and bullying, I do so remember vividly feeling this girl’s pain and thinking that here was someone who was probably 100 times or more screwed up than I ever was, psychologically, managing to continue living and continue trying to love in spite of all the trauma. The one scene in the book the very much stands out in my memory, was the brief homosexual encounter she had and all the emotions the author portrayed in that scene. I could still cry thinking about it.

    • Words for Worms

      Thank you! I’m sorry you had to struggle with bullying because of your weight- that sucks so hard. I’m glad you were able to take a hopeful message away from this book, though. Because seriously. Who’s got it worse than Dolores? Yeesh!

  8. lauratfrey

    I loved this book. Obsessed. I also loved I Know This Much Is True but not as much… I’m kind of scared to read We Are Water because I don’t know if anything can live up to She’s Come Undone.

    It’s like nothing else I’ve ever read. I probably read it 10 years ago and I vividly remember scenes and lines.

    I don’t know what it is with whales. They are always so symbolic. Yes, I just finished Moby Dick so I’m biased. But really, it’s such a pervasive thing.

    Anyway, this book was the opposite of kryptonite for me. I love depressing stories about dysfunctional people, and this is pretty much the epitome!

  9. Wayne

    I don’t think I want to read anything about tragic drag queens. Especially obese ones. Learning about J. Edgar Hoover’s supposed inclination to cross dress and paying money to see the bad movie about him and “mommy dearest” made me realize that I could never read a fiction piece about old male cross dressers. 🙁

  10. Wayne

    Leonardo DiCaprio, what possessed you to make “J. Edgar*? Bad career move! 😉

  11. Lyssapants

    sounds like this book is up my alley……but not now. I have banned myself from sad books until after the honeymoon.
    That said, they are discussing body image all week this week on The Outlier Collective. you should go check it out!!!

    Also, I am confused. You said you get insensitive by long passages, and then cry. Wouldn’t crying imply that you are sensitive/empathetic??

    • Words for Worms

      Yes, it’s a Lyssa book. But I didn’t mean I get insensitive- I meant that when authors are overly descriptive of the physical stuff it seems to me as though the authors are being insensitive… Does that make more sense? Like, if they go describing stretch marks in great detail my brain goes “OMG stop being MEAN!” And then I cry. I’m way way over sensitive on the subject.

  12. Monika

    I read this a looooooong time ago, straight through. Literally straight through. I felt so emotionally invested in it that I could.not.walk.away.

  13. Megan

    Wally Lamb is awesome. I remember reading this during a hurricane when all the power was out. I don’t remember everything, but I do remember her referring to herself as DP, displaced person. And maybe a summer camp with Presiden Nixon’s daughter? I really liked it from what I remember. I also remember thinking he was convincing writing as a woman.

    • Words for Worms

      LOL- Nixon’s daughter was mentioned a couple of times as a point of comparison. I love that that’s the part the sticks out in your mind!

  14. justJen

    I got MAD at the characters in this book. The mom, the jerk ‘vegetarian’ boyfriend, the old creeper neighbor guy. The line from the Guess Who song came into my head though – “she’s come undone, and when she found what she was heading for, it was too late. . .”

  15. Girl

    i read that book probably 10 years ago, and remember parts of it exactly, but not everything you listed. I remember the cake scene though, and how sad that felt.

    As a fat girl, the thing that pisses me off about a lot of the ‘fat’ literature is by someone who has no idea was someone is actually going through. Like – the character is eating 6,000 calories (seriously??) a day and is a whopping (GASP!!) 180 lbs or something. It is like – really, when people want to put a ‘fat’ person (girl, especially) in a book, the person’s primary activities are eating and crying about how fat they are. But when they meet the right person, or have the right motiviation, suddenly everything is amazing and they got super skinny and look great in a bikini (wonder where the stretched skin went), and now they have friends, and life is wonderful.

    I am a real life fat person – 300 lbs fat (real-time fat, yo) – and I have been fat long enough to know how this being fat thing works. (Granted, everyone has a different life experience, but since 95% of people who lose weight gain it back, I don’t think mine is TOO different.) To me, it is insulting when losing weight is made as a problem or solution to someone’s whole life. I managed to get married, get a job, have lots of friends, have body acceptance, etc etc – without being skinny. But almost no book characters have figured that out, that your body is what it is, and you should enjoy it. Whenever a fat person is a character, the fat is a plotline. If you made a movie of my life, it wouldnt be – here is the life of Rachel’s FAT – it would be – here is the life of Rachel (who happens to be fat).

    I think is there were more books where the character just was fat, and it was a description like anything else and not a main plotline – it would help shut down predjudice. Huh, this girl in the story was fat, but has a complex life where her life did NOT revolve around her weight. I didn’t even know fat people had lives and feelings not related to the number on a scale!!

    Anyway, it turns out it is a hot button for me too, I guess! But that is my feeling on it.

    (PS – To all the people who automatically want to write back and tell me that they are worried about my health – please know when you say that to someone, you are just another voice telling them you think their body is not up to your standards – which is NOT OKAY. Also – I just got yearly bloodwork, and my health is awesome, and I eat well and workout almost every day, blah blah blah. It turns out you CAN be fat and healthy. But even if I wasn’t, someone acting like a jerk about it to me wouldn’t change anything.)

  16. picturemereading

    “If everyone in the world would just try a little bit every day to not be an asshole?” I couldn’t agree more..I see kids get bullied for this so much at school and it hurts me because I remember what it was like to be that kid..a person shouldn’t be judged solely on their outside no matter what..it is just not fair!

    • Words for Worms

      That’s kind of my mantra. I try to make a conscious effort to not be an asshole. I think everybody has failings and moments they aren’t proud of, but if everybody had a “hey, is this a dick move?” meter in their brain? Much better world.

  17. Wayne

    I don’t thinking “is this a dick move?” occurs to most people. Even “religious” people. As the Buddha stated (more or less) people are driven by craving and aversion and that pretty much eliminates the possibility of make wise choices.

  18. RebeccaScaglione - Love at First Book

    I have read this one twice and I just love the tragicness. It’s such a good read, very deep and tragic and times but also about finding out if you feel worthy of love, and sticking with what kind of love is important to keep in your life.

    • Words for Worms

      I had a number of imaginary romances… When I was 11-12 I thought I’d be marrying Jonathan Taylor Thomas. I had so many Teen Beat posters of him on my wall, my best friend changed her clothes in the bathroom instead of my room! (The creepy factor had not occurred to me…)

  19. Wayne

    It’s not too late to tweet him. He’s 53 now but I guess woman still tweet Mick Jagger 😉

  20. Kelly

    I love reading your asides even more than your reviews themselves. You are so entertaining! Or maybe the unicorn thing just got me. My husband and daughter are both firm believers that they exist 🙂

    • Words for Worms

      LOL thanks Kelly! This is why my blog has to have a FOCUS. Otherwise I’d just ramble about unicorns and penguins and coleslaw all the live long day!

  21. Sami Alford

    I haven’t commented in a while! I promoise I have still been reading…just really busy! As usual love you! Best line of ever…: “If everyone in the world would just try a little bit every day to not be an asshole?” I think maybe so 🙂

  22. kimberleac

    I’m coming late to the game here, I’m just reading this book now and started looking for reviews and/or articles about his treatment of obesity. I’m stunned to see how many people see the treatment as a positive. Not only is he portraying her as a grotesque freak at 250 pounds (and yes, it’s obese but it’s not MONSTROUS, not the kind of fat that people stop and stare and point at every day) he also has her eating literally unbelievable amounts of food — and if she did actually eat that much food, she’d weigh far more than 250 pounds. I don’t think the author likes Dolores very much — and I certainly don’t. I empathize with the pain of the rape, and with the comfort of food (been in a similar situation and created my own wall of fat to deal with it) but otherwise I find nothing to latch on to in her. I’m halfway through the book, where of course she has lost 100 pounds and life’s going to get better, la la la and I don’t think I can finish it. I don’t think he understands young women, and certainly not young fat women, at all. He has no empathy for his own character.

    • Katie Words for Worms

      Ooof I had to revisit what I’d written since this review is 7 years old. His treatment of obesity is super gross. You have my blessing to drop this book like a hot potato. If I may point you in a more fat-positive direction? Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy is a delight.

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