I have only read one other book by Wally Lamb, the more recent The Hour I First Believed, and when I began reading I Know This Much Is True, it was like deja vu all over again. In a very long novel, crass, belligerent, macho protagonist with anger issues ignores his own problems in attempting to cope with a family member with serious mental health difficulties.
In this case, Dominick Tempesta has a twin brother Thomas who is a paranoid schizophreniac. Thomas has seemed to do very well lately, so Dominick is shattered when Thomas goes to the public library one day and chops off his own hand in an effort to halt Operation Desert Storm. When Thomas is sent to Hatch, the high-security facility for the most dangerous patients, instead of Settle, where he usually goes, Dominick is convinced there is some mistake. His misgivings are confirmed when Dominick himself is severely beaten by one of Hatch’s security guards while he’s trying to get someone to call Thomas’ doctor. He begins trying to get Thomas out of there.
In his efforts, he meets with Thomas’ social worker Ms. Scheffer and with Dr. Patel, one of the therapists who is supposed to evaluate Thomas. Dr. Patel asks Dominick to discuss his and Thomas’ past with her so that she can gain more insight about Thomas. But eventually she begins treating Dominick.
So, the present-day chapters of the novel, set in the early 90s, are interspersed with chapters describing incidents from Dominick’s childhood and adolescence. These incidents include upbringing by a mild-mannered mother and abusive stepfather Ray, Dominick’s constant curiosity about the identity of his real father, Dominick’s jealousy at their mother’s favoritism for Thomas.
In the end, you get to understand and feel for Dominick, if not actively like him. His insight about himself is helped along by finding a manuscript written by his grandfather, another similarity with his other novel. This novel explores issues such as bullying and abuse, mental illness, the way Americans raise boys, the closeness of twins, the way our own history flows from the history of our parents.
As with the other book, I liked it well enough but perhaps not well enough to subject myself to another 1000 pages of Wally Lamb.