She's Come Undone is a 1992 novel by Wally Lamb, his debut. It wasn't a huge seller when it first came out, but after it became a selection in Oprah's book club in 1997, it was suddenly a huge hit. It is notable for being written by a male author, but narrated by a female protagonist.
13-year-old-Dolores Price's life is something out of a nightmare. Her father divorced her mother and hasn't tried to contact her, her mother is insane, she lives with her cold grandmother in an awful neighborhood, and her only friend—-the new guy in town—-has raped her. Dolores eats away in depression until, at the age of eighteen, she weighs in at 254 pounds. From there, things only continue to go downhill. Her mother is suddenly killed in an accident, the girls at the college she reluctantly attends bullies her, and the one person who she considers a friend has feelings for her to which Dolores doesn't feel the same. Dolores runs away and, almost completely alone in the world, attempts suicide at a beach.
And that's only about half the book.
Despite it's dark and borderline unbearable tone, She's Come Undone manages to have plenty of wit and humor. It's a coming-of-age that doesn't take things lightly or try to hide the horrors of real life. Because of this, it's an amazing novel.
This book contains examples of:
- Big Eater: Dolores binge-eats whenever something upsets her.
- Bittersweet Ending: Dolores comes to accept that she will always carry the grief for those she's lost and that her dream of having a child of her own will never come true. But she has a loving husband, a stepson, and a circle of unconventional but supportive friends.
- Bury Your Gays: Mr. Pucci and his boyfriend Gary. May be Truth in Television, as this is during the height of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s.
- Cool Old Lady: Roberta.
- Dropped a Bridge on Him: Ma's death.
- Epiphany Therapy: Subverted. Dolores finally confronts her issues with her mother and believes she's cured. She's not.
- Fat Girl: Dolores even calls herself this. The entire novel discusses her struggles with her weight and how she is defined by her body.
- Food Porn: Possibly subverted, as Dolores never seems to enjoy the food she's binging on, and the descriptions of food aren't exactly tantalizing. One scene describes her as hacking apart a whole roast beef that grows more "purply-raw" the deeper she cuts, while swallowing whole the "cool, rubbery hunks" she isn't able to chew through. Another shows her cramming her mouth full of potato chips and soda and crunching them to a "sweet salty pulp."
- Formerly Fat: Dolores eventually loses weight as an adult. One of the first signs that she is losing control of her life is when she realizes she's gaining again.
- Hot for Teacher: Dante's a high school teacher with a number of very young female admirers.
- Kids Are Cruel: Dolores is bullied from grade school through college.
- Law of Inverse Fertility: Dolores very much wants a baby, but life keeps thwarting her plans.
- Nobody Over 50 Is Gay: Subverted. Their actual ages are never mentioned, but judging by the timeline, Mr. Pucci and Gary are in their mid-50/early-60s.
- One-Scene Wonder: Larry, Ruth, and Tia stay with Dolores for a weekend—long enough for Dolores to become deeply attached to them. They are never heard from again, although twenty years later, Dolores gets a fleeting glimpse of them in a documentary about Woodstock.
- Post-Stress Overeating: Dolores is prone to massive binge-eating in the wake of stressful events. After deliberately skipping out on her high school graduation, she buys nearly seventy dollars (in 1967 money!note ) of junk food and consumes all of it in a wild binge.
- Psycho Lesbian: A mild example in Dottie, who in the course of a week becomes extremely possessive of Dolores and sustains her crush long after Dolores tells her to leave her alone. Later she takes advantage of a vulnerable and traumatized Dolores in order to get her drunk and have sex with her.. Dottie's also implied to have some deep-rooted psychological problems.
- Public Exposure: Dante sends some 1960s-style nude selfies to his girlfriend. Dolores steals them.
- Rape as Drama: Dolores is violently raped at thirteen.
- Symbolic Baptism: Dolores is frequently shown taking refuge in water, associating it with safety and happiness culminating in a suicide attempt in which she attempts to drown herself in the ocean. The final scene, in which she is sprayed by a whale, is referred to by Dolores herself as a "baptism."
- Time Skip: Several. The novel traces her life from four to forty, after all.
- Trauma Conga Line: Dolores's whole life.
- What the Hell, Hero?: The book does not shy away from the fact that its protagonist treats people terribly and that she does a lot of questionable things. The Moral Event Horizon for many readers is the scene where Dolores poisons several tanks of tropical fish in an act of misdirected revenge.
- Your Cheating Heart: The book begins with Dolores's father having an affair with his employer, which ends in splitting up the family. Dolores's husband Dante sleeps around with his (high-school-age) students. It's also revealed late in the game that Dolores's mother was sleeping with the married upstairs tenant who later raped Dolores.