Wally Lamb's novel I Know This Much Is True is an exploration of both a condition and a person and how the two can be seen in terms of each other. The long, not entirely cohesive work tells the story of Dominick Birdsey, who is the protagonist and antihero of the novel. He is a man split off from normal life by emotional scarring and anger and by the schizophrenia of his brother. The term was until recently loosely translated as "split personality", and although this is in fact a relatively inaccurate description of the condition, Lamb plays with the idea of this split personality by giving to Dominick an identical twin, a person from who he split off in utero, although just barely, and who mirrors for him now his own inner tortures.
Both of the twins have been abused, and the miseries of childhood have left Dominick, who works as a housepainter, emotionally unavailable. His brother's paranoid schizophrenia - which tends to express itself in terms of public mutilation - has certainly been exacerbated by their treatment as children when the brothers were raised by a brutal grandfather, a grandmother who may have murdered someone in her own youth and a stepfather who is a sadist.
And while Dominick's brother Thomas may participate in more publicly dramatic acts of madness, Dominick himself is none too stable, with a history of rape, a disastrous marriage, a messy car crash and a neo-fascist conspiracy.
The book is about these two men but it is in many ways far more about the terrible electrical storms in their brains and at least in some sense about the line between madness and anger. Lamb allows us to see - in the ravings and ragings of both brothers - why it is that "mad" connotes both anger and insanity, for ways in which the brain reacts to anger are not so very different from the way it reacts to the chemical complexities of schizophrenia.
Lamb presents the condition of paranoid schizophrenia in many ways as if it were ...