I Know This Much is True
There are a select group of people who can say they have watched a family member spiral into mental illness. Dominick Eugene Birdsey is a member of “this club”. I Know… follows the lives of identical twins Thomas and Dominick Birdsey. Dominick is not exactly tough but he is far from fragile. He isn’t extremely outgoing but he knows how to make friends. He isn’t exactly a caregiver by nature but his entire life he has to protect and nurture Thomas.
Long before knowing that Thomas is schizophrenic, readers sense that he may simply be “light in the head” with no real idea that something is slowly and surely unraveling in the mind of Thomas Birdsey. Even protector Dominick is tuned out, craving to live his life separate from being a twin. Not only is he trying to escape twin-hood, home life with hostile and bitter stepfather Ray is oppressing. Add this to a mother who is submissive to her husband and overly self-conscious of a cleft lip; it starts to become clear that both brothers have demons to deal with. The fact that the identity of their biological father is unknown further complicates the situation.
I Know…is not just about mental illness. It is neither about the bond of being a twin nor the obligations of being a sibling. It explicitly speaks to all of these themes while building (and breaking down) characters who love, grieve, and resent so strongly that they become people we have known or been.
I stumbled upon Wally Lamb at the age of 13 when I discovered the glory of She’s Come Undone. At the time, I couldn’t articulate just what I loved about the particular piece of work but years later, I realized that it was more than just that book, it was that writer. Wally Lamb moves beyond just being a writer and becomes near voyeuristic. He follows and documents the lives of his characters in such a way that readers might almost attempt to Google them. Thomas and Dominick really are no different. He gives life and complexity to mental illness. He tells how deeply affecting it is to have and love a brother with schizophrenia.
Don’t Forget to Read
I don’t know if any book is a must-read. However, I believe I Know this Much is True can benefit anyone in learning more about a human experience that is not their own. It doesn’t just provide a sneak-peak into these fictional lives but full access that shows the complexities and contradictions of life, leaving readers to ponder what they know, for sure, to be truth.