She’s Come Undone Summary

Wally Lamb

She’s Come Undone

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She’s Come Undone Summary

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American author Wally Lamb’s acclaimed 1992 coming-of-age novel She’s Come Undone follows an obese 13-year-old girl as she moves into womanhood. Lamb’s debut novel won wide acclaim for its compelling mix of comedy and drama. Its themes include resilience,forgiveness, generational trauma, and the manipulation of love.

The novel is narrated in the first person by the protagonist, Dolores Price. She is currently 40, but she narrates events from the age of four up to the present. The novel opens with Dolores narrating one of her first memories: two repair men coming to install a TV who she believes to be President Dwight Eisenhower and Vice President Richard Nixon. Her relationship to her father is founded on love, but is deeply one-sided: Dolores adores her handsome, charming father, but his interest in her is next to nothing.

Unsurprisingly, her father eventually abandons his suburban family. Unable to afford the house, Dolores and her mother Bernice move to to Easterly, Rhode Island. Bernice experiences a nervous breakdown in the wake of her husband’s departure.

They live with Dolores’s grandmother, Thelma Holland. Dolores has trouble meeting the stalwart standards of her strict grandmother.She has no friends at school because she didn’t grow up within the community and the Catholic school she’s now forced to attend.Her only real friend is a young man, Jack Speight, who rents a room in her grandmother’s house. Like her father, Jake is charming and handsome. Unfortunately, Jake betrays her trust and rapes her.

She responds to the violence by absconding from the world; she starts to eat copious amounts of food and watches television constantly, mostly soap operas. By the time she’s 17, she’s 270 pounds and therefore morbidly obese.Her mother dies in a freak accident. With no reason to stay in Easterly, she chooses to attend Merton College, a fictional college in Pennsylvania. The college is no better than her Catholic high school. She’s frequently mocked for her weight.

She becomes obsessed with Dante, the boyfriend of her preppy roommate, Katherine “Kippy” Strednicki. Dante and Kippy are in a long-distance relationship, and to keep the romance alive, Dante often sends Kippy nude pictures and detailed love letters bordering on the erotic. Dolores has a bad one night-stand with a female janitor on campus.Confused, she takes a long (and expensive) cab trip to Cape Cod, Massachusetts. She sees a whale dying on the beach. Seeing herself in the whale, she walks toward it, preparing to drown herself in the water.

A stranger finds her still alive in the water, and she is sent to a mental hospital called Gracewood. She stays there for four years, working on her deep-rooted issues with a therapist, Dr. Shaw. Her two previous therapists believed they couldn’t help her, but at Gracewood, Dolores loses over 100 pounds. Though she’s made physical improvements, Dolores is still upset that her mental issues haven’t entirely been resolved.

Figuring that she must, somehow, reckon with the past, Dolores moves to Vermont, where she knows Dante lives.Dolores quickly finds a job at a grocery store. She also hunts down Dante’s address and moves into the apartment across the hall from him. She approaches him to talk. They strike up an acquaintance that morphs into friendship. Dolores learns that Dante works as a high school English teacher. He’s disappointed with his life, however. He always wanted to become a priest.

The two-start dating, and soon after, they marry. But life with Dante isn’t the happily-ever-after Dolores envisioned. Like her father, Dante is selfish and capricious. At the end of the day, he does whatever he wants, which includes having affairs with adolescent students.Dolores discovers she’s pregnant. She’s overjoyed by the news, but Dante tells her to get an abortion. Against her will, she does so. The event causes her resentment toward Dante to fester.

Dolores’s grandmother dies. The death inspires some raw honesty in Dolores, and she admits to Dante that she manipulated their whole relationship. She reveals this partially to get back at him for telling her what to do at every step of their marriage.The two divorce, and Dolores moves back to Rhode Island, where her grandmother has left her the house.At Grandma Holland’s funeral, Dolores talks with several high school friends. Now that she has no family or husband left, these friends become a crucial second family for Dolores.

Dolores, with the mental support of her friends, returns to college. She meets a single father named Thayer who falls head-over-heels in love with her. At first, Dolores politely declines Thayer’s advances, but overtime she’s enchanted by his thoughtfulness and compassion. She’s really won over when Thayer sends his teenage son to rap about how much Thayer likes Dolores. Dolores, still desiring a child of her own, agrees to have a relationship with Thayer. Thayer even agrees to help pay for the IVF treatment that’s required for Dolores to have a baby.

Now in her late 30s, Dolores is downtrodden by the reality that she may never be a mother. Though she hasn’t yet conceived, she marries Thayer. He buys her various presents and takes her on vacations to improve her mood. One journey is a whale watching tour. On the boat, she thinks about her past and future life.

The novel closes with the image of a whale breaking the surface of the ocean. Dolores is the only person on the boat to see this. In fact, its tail smacks the water and Dolores is drenched with salt water. She reckons that her life, despite the previous obstacles, is wonderful.