She's Come Undone
Dolores Price of Wally Lamb's She's Come Undone (1992) tells the story of her life through the experience of television and how it warped her sensibilities and took the place of her parents in creating values by which to live. She suffers from eating disorders and is institutionalized. The novel is also written in the first person, which means that Dolores herself is telling the story. This may lead to issues of an unreliable narrator — is television really the central moment in her life? Are her memories of her early childhood, which are all based around television, even accurate. As Dolores notes at the beginning:
“Dolores, look!” my mother says. A star appears at the center of the green glass face. It grows outward and becomes two women at a kitchen table, the owner of the voices. I begin to cry. Who shrank these women? Are they alive? Real? It's 1956; I'm four years old. This isn't what I've expected. The two men and my mother smile at my fright, delight in it. Or else, they're sympathetic and consoling. My memory of that day is like television itself, sharp and clear but unreliable. (Lamb 1992, p. 4)
Speaking from the vantage point of a forty year-old woman reminiscing about her life, the issue of unreliable emerges a number of times, but ultimately it is clear that Dolores can be believed to the extent that she herself is aware of the complications of memory, especially in a life as full as trauma as hers. The story takes Dolores from a child living in a small town, to a rape in adolescence, through an attempt at college to find love through deceit, to time spent in a mental institution, to her release and attempts at forging a life of her own.
Her parents' divorce comes at a time when she is navigating her way through adolescence and most needs their support. Her body is changing, her feelings are confused, and she needs someone to care for her and guide her through this difficult time in life. Unsure about why her parents are divorcing, Dolores is angry with her father for his departure and subsequent remarriage. Preoccupied with her own grief -- the heartache of losing a child, the reality of her husband's unfaithfulness, and the loss of her husband and marriage -- Dolores's mother is emotionally unavailable to her daughter. Eventually, the mother's hospitalization and confinement to an institution leaves her daughter in the temporary care of a less-than-loving grandmother.
At a critical point in her development, adolescence, Dolores has her innocence stolen. She becomes a victim of rape; the incident causes a host of difficulties and ultimately leads her to attempt to take her own life. Jack Speight is a young, attractive, personable disc jockey. He drives a convertible sports car and lives with his wife in the apartment above Dolores. He takes advantage of Dolores's low self-esteem, spending time chatting and teasing her with his smile, giving her rides to and from school, and generally making her feel good about herself. Since her father's departure, Dolores has longed for male attention.
After he explains that two incidents in which he fondled Dolores are just his way of fooling around, Jack forcibly rapes Dolores. He immediately threatens to kill himself and his wife if Dolores tells anyone about what happened. Dolores's immediate response after the rape is to bathe, in an effort to not only wash away the blood from the rape, but to wash away the shame that overwhelms her.
Dolores's mother chooses not to press charges again Speight. She asks Dolores to pretend the rape never took place. Dolores's grandmother treats the teen as if she is a dangerous stranger. She acknowledges the rape only once, using the phrase "that business with him" (Lamb 1992, p. 120). She begins to indulge Dolores, "not as a victim, but as someone on whose good side she felt safer" ( Lamb 1992, p. 120). After one brief session with a psychiatrist, Dolores refuses to continue treatment and begins...
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