It’s probably no accident that the heroine of Wally Lamb’s engaging first novel, “She’s Come Undone,” is named Dolores, just like Nabokov’s young heroine, Dolores Haze, better known as Lolita. The plot lines of these novels also have some obvious similarities, since both heroines are raped by sociopathic older men posing as father figures. But whereas Nabokov’s Lolita comes undone from this experience, Lamb’s Dolores becomes a survivor after being a victim. She has a lot to overcome: the unraveling of her parents’ marriage; her difficult relationship with her mother; being raped at a young age; being ostracized by her peers at school. Dolores copes with her difficulties by rewarding herself with food, but predictably, overeating only adds to her problems. Even the man she falls in love with and eventually marries turns out to be nothing more than a narcissist in love with her adulation rather than with her. Yet by the end of the narrative, the heroine becomes stronger and more self-sufficient rather than weaker because of her troubles.
The best contemporary fiction, it seems, offers us two Aristotelian alternatives, as an escape from the humdrum of our lives: heroes that are somehow better than us and who can inspire us or antiheroes whose lives are so disastrous and whose problems are so heart-wrenching that they make our own lives seem downright easy by comparison. In “She’s Come Undone,” Wally Lamb magically manages to do both at once, which is not an easy task. This master of psychological fiction depicts a compelling heroine who is first defeated, only to rise above the worst life has to offer.
Claudia Moscovici, literaturesalon