Thursday, August 19, 2010

Character Connection (2): Dominic Birdsey

Character Connection is a weekly meme hosted by Jen at The Introverted Reader every Thursday. It's where we get to discuss our favorite book characters and what we love about them!

This week's post is about a character that I love from one of my favorite books... Dominic Birdsey.

If you are not familiar with him, let me introduce you. Dominic is the main character in Wally Lamb's book I Know This Much Is True. He is 40 years old, and paints houses for a living... and he has issues. Serious ones. First, and definitely not the least of which is his twin brother, Thomas, who is a paranoid schizophrenic who has been in and out of institutions and half-way houses for all of his adult life, leaving Dominic responsible for his care.

The book opens with the line, "On the afternoon of October 12, 1990, my twin brother Thomas entered the Three Rivers, Connecticut Public Library, retreated to one of the rear study carrels, and prayed to God the sacrifice he was about to commit would be deemed acceptable."

With a knock on his door, Dominic is then sucked into a kind of downward-spiral where all of his problems come to a head at once. Poor guy. He doesn't have it easy and things definitely get worse before they get better. When Thomas mutilates himself, Dominic tries to prevent his brother from being sent to a state-run and very unsympathetic maximum security mental facility.

Dominic isn't a nice man and it is easy not to like him. He tends to blame everyone else for everything that goes wrong in his life. His relationships with everyone are complicated and messy and ugly, but his brother most of all. They share a bond that is both sacred and horrifying to Dominic, because he fears that he might end up just like Thomas and not be able to tell reality from delusion. His mother is meek and quiet and essentially something of a doormat for her overbearing and abusive husband, the boys' step-father, who has always considered Thomas to be a "sissy boy" who just needs toughening up. Dominic blames her for not being strong enough to protect the boys from him. And to cap it all, he has also recently separated from his beloved wife after losing their child to SIDS when the grief proved to be too much to work through, and he insensitively blames her for not being strong enough to make it work between them.

With all this going on, he starts to learn more about who he is and where he came from, which is long overdue. I love his reluctant journey toward this understanding of himself, and I have to say that despite him, he is one of my favorite characters to read about.  I feel like I can understand why he is the way he is, and that is one of my favorite things about this book. I cannot identify with him because his experiences are so very unlike my own, but through the book, I feel like I know him.

Dominic's story is a fascinating look into the relationships between people, between brothers, twins, families coping with mental illness, love, loss, regret, and identity.

1 comment:

  1. One of the many things that I love about books is that they can help me gain an understanding of characters like this. There are so many characters that I know I wouldn't like in real life, but on the page, I can see where they're coming from and learn more about the experiences that have shaped them.

    That is a great, but chilling, opening line.