She's Come Undone

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She's Come Undone
WallyLamb ShesComeUndone.jpg
Cover to the first edition
AuthorWally Lamb
CountryUnited States
GenreComedy, Drama
PublisherSimon & Schuster
Publication date
24 August 1992
Media typePrint (hardback & paperback)
Pages368 pp (hardback edition) & 465 pp (paperback edition)

She's Come Undone is a 1992 novel by Wally Lamb which was widely read after being chosen as an Oprah's Book Club selection in December 1996. Lamb's breakthrough novel was named a finalist for the 1992 Los Angeles Book Awards' Art Seidenbaum Prize for first fiction. She's Come Undone has been translated into eighteen languages.

Plot summary[edit]

Dolores Price is heartbroken when her handsome but irresponsible father leaves their suburban home for another woman. She and her mother move into her uptight Catholic grandmother's house in Easterly, Rhode Island, where she finds herself an outsider in the adolescent social hierarchy at the strict Catholic school she attends. After being raped by a charming neighbor, Jack Speight, she turns to food and television for comfort. By the age of 17, she has eaten her way to clinical obesity and is over 250 pounds.

Following the accidental death of her mother, she decides to attend college in Pennsylvania. There she is ridiculed for her weight and cultivates a secret obsession with her peppy roommate's long-distance boyfriend, Dante, who sends love letters and nude photos in the mail. After an ill-conceived one-night stand with her university's lesbian janitor, she takes a long cab ride to Cape Cod, where she witnesses a beached whale dying. She feels kinship with the animal and wades into the water to drown herself.

After her suicide attempt, she is institutionalized for several years and begins to work through her issues with the help of her therapist. She loses over 100 pounds, but becomes frustrated with the slow-moving therapy. She decides to move to Vermont, where she has located Dante, the object of her college obsession.

Dolores gets a job at a local grocery store and moves into an apartment right across the hall from Dante. He is working as a high school English teacher but is frustrated with the stagnation in his life after having given up his youthful goal to become a priest. They begin a relationship, and eventually marry. However, Dante continues to dominate Dolores and has affairs with his female students. When Dolores becomes pregnant (something she dearly wanted) Dante pressures her into getting an abortion. After the loss of her baby, she becomes resentful of the control he has over her life. After her grandmother dies, she eventually admits to Dante that she orchestrated their entire relationship after becoming infatuated with him through his photos. They divorce and she then leaves and moves into her late grandmother's house, which she inherited.

At her grandmother's funeral, Dolores is able to reconnect with several friends from her past, who form a surrogate family for her in Easterly. They encourage her to pursue her dreams, and she enrolls in some college courses while working. Here she meets Thayer, a single father, who is immediately smitten with her despite her troubled past. Initially she rebuffs his advances, but is charmed when he sends his teenage son to recite a rap about how much he likes her. They begin a tentative romance, predicated on Dolores's desire to have a child. Dolores realizes that for the first time, she has a man in her life whom she can trust and who will treat her as an equal. Thayer supports her as they receive IVF treatment, but they do not have enough money for a second attempt after the first one fails.

Dolores is depressed by the idea that she will never be a mother (by now she is in her late 30's) and Thayer, now her husband, takes her on a whale watching vacation to help her feel better. While on the boat, Dolores muses on her past and future. She decides that her life now is wonderful and is enough. The novel ends with her being the only one to see a whale breach the ocean symbolizing her newfound peace.

Awards and nominations[edit]


Lamb, Wally. She's Come Undone. Publisher: Simon & Schuster, ISBN 978-0-671-00375-3