I know this much is true
Identical twins have a special bond and often tend to sense each other’s thoughts and emotions. Thomas and Dominick are the same in many respects as each are battling different transitions in their lives. Dominick has difficulties dealing with relationships and even understanding the needs of others. Thomas is bipolar and buries himself in thoughts related to what he thinks God has suggested as his path and what drives him in the first scene to cut off his right hand leaving it up to his brother and those witnessing the event to determine how to handle him and the situation. He feels this will help end the Gulf War. Thomas is paranoid schizophrenic and Dominick suffers from PTSD and is a house painter.
Sadness surrounds this story as we get to know both brothers in an individual way. Thomas is about to be sent to a hospital where they must decide how to deal with his missing limb. He does not want it reattached and he feels that he only wanted to stop the war and that this sacrifice would have helped. He does not understand that what he did will not change the outcome of the war or stop it.
Flashing back to when his mother was about to take her last breath all he wanted was to stop for something to eat and never really understood the gravity of her illness. Even when the author shares their outing to the movies, all he wanted was popcorn and other snacks and barely heard the movie around him until the Husher came around and stopped the movie when some kids were out of hand.
Thomas and Dominick both have their own problems to deal with but when in the hospital his ex-wife Dessa comes to see Thomas and the flood of remembrances shine through and his regret that he lost her too. Dominick promised he would care for Thomas locking himself into a life as a caregiver for a mentally unstable person. When being released from the hospital the attendants were rough, unfeeling and the ward he was supposed to go to turned out to be the one place he should never be. Dominick fought with those in charge but, they did not care about Thomas even though the doctor did not sign off on the worst ward in the mental hospital. They treated him like a criminal and not someone in need of mental help.
Dominick has PTSD and is at times violent, angry, and overprotective of Thomas his thinking irrational. As the story flashes back and forth to their youth, the relationship with their mother and the horrific abuse of Ray, their stepfather, you get a deeper insight into the minds of both men. Thomas is fearful of many things, people, and places whereas Dominick is a daredevil, never afraid to try climbing up to high places, jumping from ledges or anything that would make him feel brave. Their mother often sided and favored Thomas whereas she expected more from Dominick and at times you sense the jealousy within him.
When his mother dies he promised her right before that he would take care of Thomas as he is now in Hatch, on Haldol which is a heavy medication with serious side effects that can often create more problems or make the patient like a zombie. Hatch is where he is now and the doctors and social workers control what happens to him as the author explains their mode of treatments, Dominick’s frustrations with not being allowed to see him for fifteen days and the constant fear that something will happen to him.
The author also takes Dominick back to the birth of his daughter, her death and dealing with this traumatic time in his life, his wife Dessa leaving him and no one really wanting him around and the sadness that overcomes him when his starts another year of teaching.
Life is difficult for both brothers but Dominick attaches himself to Joy, as his new partner, finds himself dealing with her difficulties, sees Angie, Dessa’s sister and her husband Leon as allies at times and we get more insight into his thoughts , life and the fact that all he wants is to be loved, accepted and needed.
Author Wally Lamb takes us deep inside the minds of two brother who are both mentally ill in different ways, the asylum that both deals with and the abuse and lack of empathy for mentally ill patients. The doctors are very clinical, and their sense of caring seems sterile.
Lisa Sheffer is his social worker and Dr. Patel his main doctor and both seem so clinical at times and must adhere to the rules. What is compelling and eye opening are the sessions that Thomas has with Patel and Dominick’s reaction to his brother’s comments and words. Ray his stepfather is showcased in the years beginning in 1969 where we get the full picture of their relationship with him and the abuse taken both twins and their mother Connie. Dominick is primarily fixated with taking care of Thomas and his illness and the incident when Ray threw Thomas down a flight of stairs and more. Dealing with his girlfriend Joy, not really bringing Joy, she claims to be pregnant, but he had a vasectomy years before. How could this be his. He still has not gotten over what happened with Dessa and losing their child.
Added in we get reminded that Dominick is a house painter and has not returned calls from Henry Rood to fix his shutters and complete the job he is being paid to do. Added in the author brings back the fact that his grandfather’s memoir was being translated and now this person has returned and the author centers several chapters, written in a different font to allow us to read this as a separate novel.
Domenico Tempesta is his grandfather and reminds us that Dominic might take after him: Arrogance, prideful and this man came over from Italy with his two brothers. Tragedy comes when one of his brothers is killed because he was having an affair with the wife of a cop. The second falls off the roof in an accident that his grandfather is responsible for.
The grandfather pays or bargains for a wife and her cousin Prosperine in the deal. Ignazia swears that she has never been with a man and she has two children after they are married. One dies at birth and the other with a harelip that becomes Dominick’s mom. Things get sinister when Ignazia confesses to come odd truths and that she is like the outlaws Thelma and Louise. She claims that she killed her abusive husband and his grandfather is now fearing for his life. But somehow the priest convinces him to forgive her sins and rely on her good qualities.
Things get dangerous when Domenico finds her in a compromising position with Prosperine and has her committed to a mental institution where she kills herself. His daughter survives and the rest readers need to find out when you read the compelling memoir yourself.
Dominick is always angry which is one theme that runs through this novel.
Throughout the novel we can feel the tension and anger that courses through Dominick Birdsey when he finally realizes just how much it has damaged and affected his life. His marriage to Dessa, his memories of his mother, and dealing with Thomas and trying to find a place for himself. Thomas might be paranoid schizophrenic and he takes care of him, but we get to learn more about Thomas in both the past and present plus the horrific relationship with Ray. The anger comes to a full head in The History of Domenico Onofrio Tempesta, a great man. The memoir or journal serves as part of his grandfather’s penance when he decides to return to the Catholic Church. His grandfather like Dominick is angry with everyone and everything. Even his younger brothers are not worthy of family love and dignity. His wife who cannot stand him from the start hates him with equal passion and Prosperine hates him too.
Religion plays an important role in this book as Dominick lost his faith. It becomes more prevalent and pronounced with his mother dies of cancer. Thomas fantasizes about many things and finds the bride of Frankenstein as his girlfriend Nadine, a heavy roller that he met in Bible Study group.
The end of the novel focuses in Chapter 36 with Dominick upset over drowning the money and considers in his anger burning the memoir. Looking at the photos he realizes that they look like him too. Thomas is gentle and Dominick is hardnosed and both loves and hates his mother but why?
At times is as if Patel is working with Dominick and using the sessions about his brother to help him find his own place and peace. Is she afraid that he will become like Thomas? Is he his own or separate person? Will he ever find himself?
The next two chapters focus on the memoir and then in Chapter 40 he foes to Sheffer’s office and demands that Thomas be independently tested for HIV or he will go to the media. Even when Joy tells him her child is HIV positive that turns on a switch he has trouble turning off. An attack on Thomas is what sets this off. Within chapters 41-44 tragedy strikes and lives are changes as a funeral must be arranged and Thomas and his mother are not together. Just what causes his death is shocking and a twist you will not expect. The mourners come to Ray’s house and Lamb describes the funeral procession and how the women and men speak, death and Dominick must deal with his future and his past. Ray seems out of it and not really showing any feelings and cold while Dominick needs help just understanding what happened. As Dessa comes back into his life but another tragedy comes to light. Blame is cast on Ray for Thomas’s death and the final reveals at the end will hopefully give Dominick some closure and learn the truth about who is father really is and where his heritage belongs. Will he return to teaching? Will he find happiness? Will he realize that he was a great brother? Will he realize that it is his time I KNOW THIS MUCH IS TRUE!
Fran Lewis: Just reviews