In the beginning, a mythical deity decreed what was good in life and how life should be led. This deity was worshipped by millions. When the deity stopped eating hamburgers, millions stopped eating hamburgers. When the deity declared that a book was good, millions read the good book. The deity also gave everyone a car. She was a powerful entity indeed.
Yes, we're talking about the Big O: Oprah. There's no denying that she has been a powerful force when it comes to the lifestyle of your average American housewife. Oprah's Book Club made reading a big deal, and Oprah is singlehandedly responsible for putting dozens of authors on the literary map.
Wally Lamb is one of those authors. In 1992, he wrote She's Come Undone, the coming-of-age story of Dolores Price, who grapples with food, sex, whales (symbolically), and Etch-a-Sketches (literally) through grade school, college, a psychiatric hospital, and beyond. Lamb's novel was discovered by Oprah in 1996, her fourth book selection, and it quickly became the Oprah's Book Club book to end all Oprah's Book Club books.
So what made this humble story one of Oprah's Book Clubbiest books of all time? See, She's Come Undone was written back in a time (called "the nineties") when people were expected to stick to their gender stereotypes. Men played hockey and women had daytime talk shows, so it was shocking—shocking! we say—that Wally Lamb, a man, with a Y-chromosome and a beard, wrote a book with a female narrator. How is that even possible? It's like folding a piece of paper fourteen times or landing on the moon—or so people exclaimed in the nineties.
People magazine, who got to the book way before Gayle read it to Oprah, said in 1992, "This male writes so convincingly in the voice of a female, tracing her life from 4 to 40, that you have to keep looking back at the jacket picture just to make sure." The book was on an assortment of Book of the Year lists and this male has gone on to write several more novels, some of which even have the audacity to include more female characters.
If you didn't read the book back when Oprah told you to, and still want to see if a grown-up guy can capture the voice of a species so strange and foreign as an adolescent female, pick up She's Come Undone and find out for yourself.
You mean the Oprah's Book Club sticker on the front isn't good enough for you? Fancy.
Dolores Price lives a life we all dream of: She sits around eating and watching television all day. Sounds like paradise, right? Endless snacks, and the boob tube for days. Ah…
Wrong. Dolores is miserable. See, Dolores eats and watches television to fill an emotional void inside of herself. "Mine is a story of craving" (1.89), she says, and she craves everything from soap operas to Ring-Dings. Her craving is a means of escape—from parents and bullies and worse—instead of facing her problems head on. Oops.
And here's the thing: We all have methods of escape and damaging things we crave. When the going gets tough, well, it's tempting to pretty much everyone to just hide our heads in the sand and hope things are better once we emerge. They usually aren't, though—life has a way of insisting we actually deal with it. She's Come Undone is about how to live when life just seems to weigh you down, so no matter how you hide from the world, it probably has something to teach you.
Or, you know, just pick it up because Oprah told you to.
Wally Had a Little Lamb
Keep up with Wally Lamb on his website, with info on his books, tours, and more.
Sketching an Outline
Like Dolores, Lamb spent a lot of time drawing as a child. We'd like to see if he has the same mad Etch-a-Sketch skillz.
When Oprah picked She's Come Undone, the number of copies in print went from four thousand to three million. Bookshelves groaned under the weight of all those copies.
Big Moments with the Big O
Straight from the horse's—er, Lamb's—mouth, our author's phone calls from Oprah.
Cupcakes Come Undone
Is it rude to bake a cupcake in honor of a book featuring a heroine with an overeating problem? And they have whales on them? Hrm…
She's Come Un-Banned
When She's Come Undone got banned, people read the book to speak out against censorship.
Queen of the Hill
The She's Come Undone audiobook is narrated by Peggy Hill. 'Nuff said.
It's the Guess Who who sings "Undun," the song which inspired the book's title.
Etch-a-Sketch art is a thing, and this could totally be one of Dolores's sketcherpieces.
If Legs Could Fly
We're not sure if this artist was in a hospital when creating this work, but here's an interpretation of Ma's flying leg painting.