Life & Arts

Sunday, March, 9, 1997
The Pantagraph

Author takes readers on life’s downward spiral

By Karen Strawn

Special to The Pantagraph

For the reader who has never experienced the chains of addiction and uncontrollable urges of compulsive behavior, the main character in “She’s Come Undone” will seem weak, boring and a waste of time.

The key to this book is knowing the pain of a broken life. It’s the reader who has choked on life’s spitballs and spit them back that will inherit this story’s true treasure: Learn to accept what people offer; drink their milkshakes; take their love and don’t eat secrets.

From the very beginning of her life, Dolores Price feels she doesn’t belong. She can’t identify with the world she’s been born into and she feels out of her element, “like a beached and dying whale.”

Throughout the book, circumstances arise causing her to face the truth about herself resulting in her ability to function in life on life’s terms, not a happily-ever-after ending. However, the ultimate reward for Dolores’ perseverance comes in surprise packages as the author develops carefully selected, divine-inspired friendships along her way.

The entire book is written inside Dolores’ head, opening up the arena of intimacy to the reader. This is required in order to understand the depth of Dolores twisted thinking and the heights of her steady yet conquering healing.

The section of reading that contains the worst of Dolores’ downward spiral into obesity may leave the reader feeling helpless, hopeless and depressed. In her adolescence, she was 257 pounds. The reader’s natural inclination is to reach into the pages of the book and shake Dolores hard and then hold her tight saying, “You are a good person, you don’t have to eat like that, you are loveable and what’s happening in your life is not your fault.”

Resist the temptation to stop reading at this point and persevere with this woman’s story of how she’s come undone. If you’ve gotten this far in the book and still don’t understand why Dolores can’t just get over the tragedies in her life and stop eating, blaming, self-destructing and pity-partying around, then it’s time for you to stop reading.
Just be aware that this book is for the broken hearted, the survivors and those willing to go to any length to find freedom from the self-constructed prisons within.

Three great things about this book: The author’s clever use of historical moments as reminders of the time; Dolores’ unlikely friendships; and the author’s use of symbolism with Ma’s flying leg painting and Dolores’ life as a beached and dying whale.

The author seasons the story with American history between the years 1956-1985.
“The night after my mother was killed, Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.”
“Naomi said she had been to Woodstock over the summer and the experience had woken her up.”

During a Halloween party, Dolores describes the costumes as: an aluminum foil spaceman, two rubber-faced Nixons and Howdy Doody dancing with Marilyn Monroe.
As the story progresses and the years pass, she describes another experience: “That past summer, lesions had begun appearing at the corners of his mouth and his AIDS test had finally said it: the virus was full-blown against him.”

Although the story holds many tragedies, it’s not without humor. Some surprise packages are: the “coffin couple” whom Dolores gets to know while working at a photo lab; Larry, Ruth and Tia, unexpected overnight guests; and Mr. And Mrs. Buchbinder, who employ Dolores at their Novelty Shop and always find ways of sneaking tuition money into her pockets because they care.

Dolores’ friends carry her through the first part of the book, but another surprise package comes when Dolores carries them through the second part. This leaves the reader with a definition of friendship that includes the words, deep, true, long suffering and forever.

The two friendships that are most poignant are with Mr. Pucci, high school guidance counselor who was Dolores’ only advocate during the miserable high school years, and Roberta, owner of The Peacock Tattoo Emporium. When Dolores was too full to eat any more secrets she would walk over to Roberta’s and vomit them out.

One hard-to-believe thing about this book is that the authentic voice of a woman who was raped, then kicked, used, humiliated and laughed at; a woman who overate, faced the death of a parent and choose abortion was effectively captured and written by a man, Wally Lamb.

On the surface, this book will be assumed a woman’s book, but should be read by more men.

As the fourth Oprah! Book Club selection, “She’s Come Undone” will remain a favorite among the population of healing people in the world.

Like her whale, Dolores is left swimming free in the sea of life.