A book set in the 1950s and 60s pretty much has to be concerned with women's rights because they were in the air then. When Dolores is growing up in She's Come Undone, a woman's place (like her mother's) is in the kitchen—but Ma gets tired of simply having to make her man a sandwich and, after the divorce, tries to make a life for herself and for her daughter. Dolores Price is no feminist, but she, too, is a sister who has to learn how to do it for herself. Plus, so much of her experience is influenced by her body, which is a classic problem for women.
Questions About Women and Femininity
- How does Dolores's story mimic that of her mother's? How about her grandmother's?
- How is Dolores's marriage with Dante similar to that of her parents' marriage? Or his parents' marriage? How are they different?
- Consider Naomi, the progressive feminist at the college. How do people react to her? What do she and Dolores talk about during their brief friendship? Would Dolores be friends with her if she had stayed at the school?
A tremendously likable first novel about the catastrophe- marked childhood, youth, and mangled adulthood of a tough-fibered woman who almost beaches herself in guilt and grief. Terrible things are about to happen to Dolores Price, only child of brittle, vulnerable Bernice and weak, randomly abusive Tony. Tony leaves Bernice sometime after the stillbirth of their son, and after a week playing with little Dolores in a new backyard pool, when the child expects a lifetime of floating with Daddy. Then Bernice completely flips out and goes to a mental hospital; Dolores is taken to live with Grandma in Rhode Island on Pierce Street (which ``smelled of car exhaust and frying food. Glass shattered, people screamed, kids threw rocks''). Later, Ma returns and works collecting tolls on the Newport Bridge, while friendless Dolores attends a corrosive parochial school. But all welcome Grandma's new tenant, dazzling Jack, a radio DJ who, when Dolores is 13, rapes her in a dog pound. The person Dolores runs to is heart-of-gold Roberta, empress of the Peacock Tattoo Emporium across the street. In spite of the strangled but loyal love of Ma and Grandma, the palship of Roberta, and the kindness of a gentle gay guidance-counsellor, Dolores is about to go under. She becomes a mountain of fat, and soon is convinced that she's responsible for the death of Jack's baby--but also of Bernice, who's killed by a car. At a Pennsylvania college, Dolores knows that her destiny is to ``kill what people love.'' There's some good psychiatry and a bad marriage before the peaceful and upbeat close. Lamb has a broad satiric touch with some satisfying fat targets (the warfare of Pierce Street, etc.). And in spite of hard, hard times and crazy coincidences, Dolores' career is a pleasure to follow, as she barrels through--with a killer mouth and the guts of a sea lion. A warmblooded, enveloping tale of survival, done up loose and cheering.