A Wide Portfolio
Wally Lamb is an American writer whose name is best known in book club circles and writing centers/academies. Two of his most sensational books, also the first two publications we will go over in the article, were included in Oprah’s Book Club’s reading list. He also served as a director for the Norwich Free Academy’s Writing Center for about ten years and gave Creative Writing classes at the University of Connecticut in the past.
The novelist has a wide portfolio, now let’s take a look at the life he lived that put him in these places. He was born in nineteen-fifty in Norwich. His family was not much more different than their neighbors and Wally lived an “average” childhood. He states that one of his favorite activities was drawing, especially his own comic books. He also grew up with a lot of women around him as the kids in the neighborhood were mostly girls.
Roots of his Talent
From his early interest in art which gave him a head-start in terms of creativity to the girls of the neighbors’ enabling him to write from a woman’s perspective, Wally’s childhood seems to be fitted perfectly. Slowly getting out of adolescence, he enrolled in the University of Connecticut and earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education. Later on, he also studied writing at Vermont College and added another Master of Fine Arts degree to his collection.
Best Wally Lamb Books
We will go over five books by the author with the hopes of deciding on the best Wally Lamb book. The first contender of the article will be one of the best selling Wally Lamb books, I Know This Much Is True. It is one of the two books that were included in Oprah’s Book Club which we briefly talked about above.
The main concepts of the story are things you do not see very often in the world of fiction; mental health and illnesses. They are not taken from an angle of scientific observation as well, the author tells this story of struggle with a mystical and endearing tone. It is a beautiful tale of letting go of -or forgiving- yourself, those around you, and all the water under the bridge.
New Peaks of Emotional Complexity
The story itself is told from the eyes of Dominick. Dominick has a twin brother by the name of Thomas who is dealing with schizophrenia as it is disclosed at the beginning of the book. As the story goes on, we witness the brothers going through the ups and lows of their life both by themselves and with each other.
Although their experiences are of all sorts and each with a different meaning, they are all tied to their search for meaning in their own lives and as an inseparable duo. They are aiming for a life that is not only more fulfilling but also less contaminated by pain and suffering. This is a usual trope but the dynamics of the twin brothers carry the story to new peaks of emotional complexity.
From Another Perspective
Besides this main plotline, there is also a second one from the perspective of someone so close yet so far. We learn that the grandfather of the twins from their mother’s side has written out what could be called an autobiography before his passing. These parts of the writing carry the exact quality of the rest and are nearly as emotional.
The fascinating parallels between the lives of the twins and their grandfathers provide a remarkable narration. This might be just me, but I also think that the aim of the author with this secondary plot device was to give the message that there is not always a singular response to a question and the right answer can change from person to person as well as from time to time.
Original to the Core
I found I Know This Much Is True to be an original-to-the-core story and the magnificent writing in this unexplored territory makes it one of the best Wally Lamb novels in my eyes. I was afraid it might have been a needlessly emotional book when I first picked it up but I was met with a profound story with a lot of thought put into it.
Second in the article, I will give you a peek into another one of the most popular Wally Lamb books titled She’s Come Undone. It was the first book of the author to be included in Oprah’s Book Club in chronological order. Based on this, I would say it is reasonable to argue that this was the piece that brought the author his initial spike in popularity.
Extraordinary Coming of Age Odyssey
This one of the best novels by Wally Lamb is a coming-of-age story or rather, as the book calls itself, an “extraordinary coming-of-age odyssey”. The story is painted with the vibrant colors of pain and heartbreak, and of love and renewal. It also includes the concept of mental illness like the previous book we have gone over but this time around it is not exactly given the same attention or importance.
We first meet the protagonist of the story, Dolores Price, when she is just thirteen and stepping out of childhood. We are allowed to see that she is in a depressed state as most of us were in those ages. It is not all dark and gloom though, Dolores also shares her interesting personality with us whether it be her undefeatable argumentative abilities or the stoic posture she keeps in the face of pressure.
Chaos and Determination
Regardless, we leave the young Dolores after a few pages and meet her at a different point in her life. She has almost grown out of adolescence and is now standing at more than two hundred and fifty pounds. Her mental state had led her to spend her days semi-isolated within the comforts of her room that provided her with the only safety she knew.
After that, Delores is set out on a journey that brings her awareness of her situation, her depression, and her traumas. She has a long way in front of her on this journey and the road she must take is nothing but easy. Yet, she is determined to take on whatever life throws at her and never ever hold herself lower than what she is really worth.
On Point and In-Depth
She’s Come Undone is one of the biggest contenders for the best Wally Lamb book title. This story of a young struggling woman is so on point and in-depth that I would never have guessed it was written by a man if I had not known it. More than anything, Dolores feels like a complete human. It is, without argument, one of the best Wally Lamb books.
Nearing the halfway point of our Wally Lamb book reviews article, I will be introducing to you The Hour I First Believed. It is the author’s third book published by the author, coming right after the two books that we have discussed so far. The author keeps the well-received elements of his earlier writings like his stinging humor and introspective language, but he also adds a lot more to them.
With this piece, the author decides to take on a historical setting with heavy inspections of the human condition to create what is now one of the best rated Wally Lamb books. We have seen him experiment with this concept in I Know This Much Is True. If you can remember, we talked about a secondary narrative in the book that was written by the grandfather of the protagonist.
The story is mainly concerned with the forty-seven-year-old Caelum Quirk who makes a living as a high school teacher and his much younger wife Maureen who also works at schools as a nurse. They move from their homeland of Three Rivers, Connecticut to the town of Littleton in Colorado where they will be working together at Columbine High School.
After some time, Caelum is temporarily called back to Three Rivers so he can spend a little time with an aunt who has very recently suffered from a stroke. This turns out to be a grave mistake when the life of his wife is put at stake while he is away. Some of the students have created a plan of murderous rampage which they carried in the absence of Caelum.
A Battle for Sanity
Maureen is able to hide from the murderous students by taking cower in a cabinet of sorts and the duo flees back to their family farm immediately. However, Maureen’s mind has been scarred as a result of this event even though she had not been physically harmed. More than that, the place they have run for safety will only riddle them with more chaos as Caelum’s family secrets emerge.
At the heart of this one of the best books by Wally Lamb, stands a battle for sanity in an utterly indifferent and sometimes even malevolent world. The style change of the author is easily noticeable as well. He had gone from writing personal stories of love and forgiveness to playing the role of a virtuoso shouting stories of unformidable chaos and psychological horrors.
We are nearing the end of our article but I will not let you go before we first talk about the latest Wally Lamb book, We Are Water. The book was published just nine years ago, in two-thousand-thirteen. We talked about the author’s drastic change in style in the previous chapter but We Are Water resembles his earlier works more closely. It is a piece of contemporary fiction with mainstream ideas.
It revolves around a subject that is mentioned in almost all of the top Wally Lamb books and is also one of the reasons as to why the author’s writing is so touching. That is the concept of human connection. If you go back and read one of the book summaries again, you will find some mention of this subject whichever book you have chosen.
Whether it be from the angle of love or friendship or even family, our need for connection and belonging as humans is a hallmark of the author’s writing. Well, in his new book Wally Lamb rolls up his sleeves and takes us on a ride that touches every single angle that I have listed above. The author achieves this by using different voices throughout the story all of which I will share with you now.
The story is told by the five different members of the “Oh” family. First, there is Annie who is a nonconformist mother of three. Second, we have Orion who works in the field of psychology. Then comes the twins Ariane and Andrew. While Ariane is a kind-hearted boy who wishes to do good, Andrew is much more rebellious. And the last place belongs to the youngest member Marissa who just wishes for freedom in life.
In the face of Rapid Change
Okay, these are the characters but what about the setting you may ask. It takes place partly in New York and partly in New England. It is also set during the first years of President Obama’s office service, the first black president of the United States and one of the most important people of the last decade. From this aspect, We Are Water is also a study of the United States in a state of rapid change.
This book is filled to the brim with hilarious writing as well as heart-warming emotion. It manages to accurately portray the state of a human when they are trying to find something to hold on while they are dealing with loss and trauma. However, I think it is the bleakest book in this Wally Lamb book list. It just fails to bring anything new to the table and thus, lacks in the department of literacy.
The last piece among the Wally Lamb books that I have in order for you in this article is Wishin’ and Hopin’ It was published in two-thousand-nine and much like We Are Water that we just talked about, it also abandons the style change of the author that was present in The Hour I First Believed. In fact, it takes the complete opposite direction and makes humor one of its main focuses.
Although it is more than two and a half hundred pages long, the author classifies this piece as a novella. Still, most of the other works of the author are well over five hundred pages so this is understandable in that context. I just found it a little confusing and wanted to point it out. Another reason for it might be that the book is a Christmas story and the author did not want it put in the same basket as his novels.
What it was Like
The book takes us on a journey that will remind us what it was like -or what it would be like- to be a kid in the United States in the sixties. If you think about it, kids before all of the fancy inventions of the late twentieth century lived completely different lives compared to kids of our age. There was only school, neighborhood friends, and family.
Our protagonist is a curious, wide-eyed boy at the age of ten by the name of Felix Funicello. We follow him around while he learns the meaning of wonder and pressure at his Catholic school, gets overly competitive with his friends for no reason as most boys do, and countless other events that we as adults tend to look back on with a smile on our faces.
A Ride Down Memory Lane
Among all of the Wally Lamb books we have ranked so far, this one definitely gets into the top three. Because of this, it was all the more surprising for me to look up what other people thought about it and found out that many of the readers found it to be boring. I do not know if that has anything to do with belonging to different eras or having different expectations but I will explain why I liked it so much.
As I was reading the book, I could not help but ask myself if I knew any of the schoolmates of Felix or had been in the exact situations that he went through. It was almost as if I was taken for a ride down memory lane and revisited my fond memories. It is organized very nicely and every aspect of the book feels that they were emphasized exactly the right amount. I believe this could have been the best Wally Lamb novel with a little more work.
Wally Lamb is not a genius world builder, philosopher, or writer of thrill but he does not need to be any of these things anyway. He can touch people’s emotions and he can create a relatable character like no other. His strength is the emotional world and knowing this, he focuses solely on this to write some of the most moving books that you will read. I would advise you to read one or two of his books even if you’re not a fan of his genre.
Alissa is an avid reader, blogger, and wannabe writer. (She's a much better cook than a writer actually). Alissa is married, has one human, one feline, and two canine kids. She always looks a mess and never meets a deadline.