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Authors: Wally Lamb

She's Come Undone


She's Come Undone

Magazine Top-Ten
Book of the Year
New York Times
Book of the Year
Los Angeles Times
Book Award Finalist—
Best First Novel of the Year

“Mr. Lamb gives his vociferous heroine truly heroic proportions, in both the physical and the psychical sense. . . . John Updike once observed that J.D. Salinger loves some of his characters ‘more than God loves them,' which might be said about Wally Lamb. . . . Those characters are equally endearing to the reader, as Dolores Price is, even in her most self-deprecatory moments: this reader kept rooting for her to overcome all adversity and find peace and happiness.”

—Hilma Wolitzer,
The New York Times Book Review

“There's so much to love in it. . . . I adore

—Elinor Lipman, author of
The Way Men Act
Isabel's Bed

Wally Lamb taps into the troubled inner world of his female protagonist with a degree of realism that would make such notable women writers as Marilyn French and Margaret Atwood proud.”

Village View

“At a time when most of us could use a little personal moment of triumph, spending some time with Dolores is great therapy.”

—Digby Diehl

“WARNING: Don't read the ending in public if you don't have two tissues handy. . . . It's a two-boxer.”

—The Wichita Eagle

“. . . a warm-blooded, enveloping tale of survival. . . . Dolores has a killer mouth and the guts of a sea lion.”

Kirkus Reviews

“Dolores Price . . . [is] a character few readers will soon forget. . . .
is a novel worth reading by a writer worth watching.”


“Lamb has written a tour de force, a magnificent and beautiful first novel whose lyric voice and compelling story couple to make an astonishing debut.”

—Bret Lott, author of

“A fat, satisfying first novel.”

Entertainment Weekly

“Contemporary fiction just doesn't get much better than this. . . . It's the kind of book that makes you stop reading and shake your head, shocked by the insights you've encountered. In short, you'll be undone.”

Hartford Advocate

“An extraordinarily gifted author . . . a compulsively readable novel, full of heartbreak and savage humor, which dares to show us the ultimate fragility of love . . . a wonderful, inventive, ambitious, and, it cannot be stressed enough,
first novel.”

—Kristin McCloy, author of

“As you read
your entire life will flash before your eyes. . . . It's a little bit like strolling down memory lane with Dick Clark on one arm, Jean-Paul Sartre on the other. It's scary, but Lord, it's wonderful!”

—Cathie Pelletier, author of A
Marriage Made in Woodstock

“. . . Wally Lamb can lie down with the literary lions at will: he's that gifted. . . . This novel does what good fiction should do—it informs our hearts as well as our minds of the complexities involved in the ‘simple' act of living a human life.”

The Nashville Tennessean

“A remarkable novel. . . . Like John Irving, Lamb assembles a riotous and colorful cast of characters. . . . Dolores and her entourage stumble through the tumult and heartbreak of life as it is really lived. Theirs is a journey worth joining.”


“This big, warm, embracing book . . . is all about the self and about rebirth, all about creating the family we wish to belong to and making peace with the one we were given. . . . Filled with a generous love and understanding of women . . . a healing vision of the way we must learn from, possess, and then undo the past in order to make a future.”

New Orleans Times-Picayune

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Portions of this novel, in somewhat different form, have been published as the short stories “Keep in a Cool, Dry Place” and “The Flying Leg” in

“Ole Devil Called Love.” Words and Music by D. Fisher & A. Roberts. Used by permission of Doris Fisher Music & Allan Roberts Music. Copyright renewed 1971.

“Respect.” Words and Music by Otis Redding. Copyright © 1963 by Irving Music, Inc. (BMI). All rights reserved. International copyright secured.

“See the U.S.A. in Your Chevrolet” reprinted with permission of General Motors Corporation, Chevrolet Motor Division.

“Tom Dooley.” Words and music collected, adapted, and arranged by Frank Warner, John A. Lomax, and Alan Lomax. From the singing of Frank Proffitt. TRO—© copyright 1947 (renewed) and 1958 (renewed) Ludlow Music, Inc., New York, NY. Used by Permission.

Grateful acknowledgment is made to Stanley Kunitz for permission to reprint lines from his poem “The Wellfleet Whale,” copyright © 1985 by Stanley Kunitz.



“The Prophet” by Kahlil Gibran

“Love Is Like a Heat Wave” by Eddie Holland, Brian Holland, and Lamont Dozier

“It's My Party” by John Gluck, Wally Gold, Herbert Weiner, and Seymour Gottlieb

“Our Day Will Come” by Bob Hilliard and Mort Garson

“Chiquita Banana” by Leonard MacKenzie, Jr., William Wirges, and Garth Montgomery

“Both Sides Now” by Joni Mitchell

“Tonight's the Night (It's Gonna Be Alright)” by Rod Stewart

“Everyday People” by Sylvester Stewart

“Lover Man (Oh Where Can You Be)” by Roger J. (Ram) Ramirez, Jimmy Davis, and Jimmy Sherman

“I'm a Man” by Steve Winwood and Jeremy Miller

“Mockingbird” by Inez Foxx and Charles Foxx

“Undun” by Randy Bachman and Burton Cummings

To Christine,
who laughed and cried and lent me to these characters.

Grateful acknowledgment is extended to the Connecticut Commission on the Arts and to the Norwich Free Academy for their generous support of this project.

Thanks to the following, whose encouragement and/or critical response helped shape the book:

Lary Bloom, Theodore Deppe, Barbara Dombrowski, Joan Joffe Hall, Jane Hill, Terese Karmel, Nancy Lagomarsino, Ken Lamothe, Linda Lamothe, Eugenia Leftwich, Ann Z. Leventhal, Pam Lewis, Ethel Mantzaris, Faith Middleton, David Morse, Nancy Potter, Wanda Rickerby, Joan Seliger Sidney, Gladys Swan, and Gordon Weaver.

I also thank John Longo, former third-floor custodian at the University of Connecticut's Homer Babbidge Library, who shared his lunch and conversation with me during the seven summers this story came together and who later taught me a lesson about courage.

I am grateful that this novel fell into the loving care of my agents and friends, Linda Chester and Laurie Fox, whose sharp eyes and warm hearts helped me to prepare the story.

And finally I extend special thanks to my editor and
Judith Regan, who, while cradling her week-old daughter Lara in one arm and my manuscript in the other, decided to midwife this novel.


An Introduction to the 20th Anniversary Edition: She's Still Out There

Part One: Our Lady of Sorrow

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Part Two: Whales

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Part Three: The Flying Leg

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Our day will come

If we just wait awhile . . .


         Toward dawn we shared with you

your hour of desolation,

    the huge lingering passion

         of your unearthly outcry,

as you swung your blind head

    toward us and laboriously opened

         a bloodshot, glistening eye,

in which we swam with terror and recognition.


She's Still Out There

olores Price first came to me as a voice. I was in the shower after an early morning run, hustling to get ready for my teaching day at the high school where I'd worked for the past nine years. “Well, the dork just left me,” the voice said. “Good riddance.” She was unnamed, not yet visible. But in those eight words, she sounded wounded, irreverent, and funny. I liked her immediately.

A few years earlier, at the age of thirty, I had become a father and begun writing short stories. For my first Father's Day my wife, Christine, gifted me with an electric typewriter—high tech at the time. It was 1981. On the day the woman spoke to me about her dorky ex, I had four unpublished stories under my belt. I gave the voice a name—Mary Ann—and she began telling me about her marriage and divorce. I thought I was writing short story number five.

I had completed a couple dozen pages of Mary Ann's story on the morning when, for some reason, I recalled a seventeen-year-old girl with whom I had worked ten years earlier while student teaching. Sheila was a lonely, introverted kid who, because of her obesity, couldn't fit at a student desk and, instead, sat at the back of the classroom at a table. Her peers didn't bully her, but because her size made them uncomfortable, they made her invisible. Sheila was complicit in that invisibility. She never spoke, never interacted with the others.
As long as they didn't look behind them, she wasn't there. In my grandiose naïveté, I decided I would save Sheila's life by engaging her in class discussion. But each time I called on her, she shook her head and remained silent. Her fat was a fortress that no rookie teacher was going to penetrate. And so, by the time my student-teaching stint was completed, Sheila was still a mystery. But my sudden recollection of her a decade later hit me like a bolt of lightning. I fused fictional Mary Ann's voice to my visual memory of nonfictional Sheila and my story was suddenly electrified.

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