|Wally Lamb: I Know This Much Is True|
Regard Books (Paperback), ISBN 0061097640
Born six minutes apart on either side of the 1950 New Year, the Tempesta twins make the headlines, but no one mentions their absent father. Identical but not the same, Dominick and Thomas grow up as disparate as peaches and persimmons in the puritanical New England of the Cold War era.
Four years later, the twins frame the face of a beaming Mamie Eisenhower when she visits Groton, Connecticut, to break the champagne bottle against the USS Nautilus, America's first nuclear-powered submarine. The twins' stepfather, Ray Birdsey works at Groton's Electric Boat Company, fighting the war against Communism.
The twins' mother -- reclusive and disfigured by a harelip -- married Birdsey to provide her illegitimate children the all important illusion of propriety. But instead of the nurture of a loving family home, she merely repeated the patterns of psychological abuse and intimidation that characterized her own childhood.
Dominick and Thomas grew up as adopted bastards with a violent stepfather, who unmercifully controlled their lives. Birdsey, intent on eliminating sissies in his family, responds with abuse whenever Thomas doesn't meet his expectations or ultimatums.
Intimidated by his stepfather, Thomas submits to his mother's demands to play dress-up tea parties. When Birdsey accidentally discovers this, he brutally punishes Thomas and locks him in a closet. This appears to be the key event in Thomas's slide towards the insanity and the horrific day in which he goes berserk in the Three Rivers, Connecticut, library.
Denouncing the corruption of the world and the aims of its politicians, Thomas severs his hand, flinging it across the library floor as religious statement. "If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out ...and if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off and cast it from thee..." (Matthew 5:29-30)
Trained to be tough, Dominick faces personal tragedies of another sort. His marriage breaks apart after crib death takes his own child. He walks out on his career as a teacher. Taking up house-painting, he seeks escape from those who continually confuse him with his identical, but crazy brother.
Nevertheless, when an employee of the mental institution secretly warns Dominick that Thomas could be the victim of sexual assault, Dominick fights hard to save his twin. The recently discovered memoirs of the twins' superstitious and abusive maternal grandfather provide a necessary backdrop to the family history Dominick recounts to a court-appointed social worker in order to secure Thomas's release. But Thomas's release translates to Dominick's servitude. How can Dominick bear the burden of truly being his brother's keeper?
Wally Lamb's tale of two brothers in late 20th century New England lays bare the silent abuse and bullying rampant in the America of not so long ago. The book's few dry stretches do not detract from the power of its message. I highly recommend it.
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