Wally Lamb's first novel, She's Come Undone, was published in 1996 and skyrocketed to the top of best-seller lists when it became an Oprah's Book Club selection. Lamb introduces Dolores Price, the heroine, who brings readers along on the journey of her life from age four to forty. Finding solace in food, Dolores eats her way through tragedy after tragedy including the abandonment of her father, the emotional instability of her mother, rape, death, and mental illness. Dolores finds herself on the threshold of adulthood tipping the scales at over 250 pounds. It is as though she was destined for the sorrow for which she was named from the start.
Having spend her formative years eating in front of the television while watching soap operas, Dolores is virtually unable to relate to people when she begins her freshman year of college. As such, Dolores attempts suicide and, as a result, spends the next seven years in an institution. Not to be deterred, however, Dolores emerges from the experience ready to face the world once again. Her road to self-discovery and self-confidence, however, is not without difficulties along the way. Dolores's determination and fight to find self-worth in the face of societal pressures is charted over the course of the novel. Many readers will relate to the struggles Dolores endures as well as to her resolve to succeed once she finds it.
Since its publication, readers have commented over and over at Lamb's masterful portrayal of women. He renders Dolores as a downtrodden victim who somehow miraculously maintains her sense of humor and ultimately develops the self-esteem she has been missing all along. Dolores's voice resonates with readers long after they have finished Lamb's novel.
Lamb's breakthrough novel was named a finalist for the 1992 Los Angeles Book Awards' Art Seidenbaum Prize for first fiction. Lamb's other novels include I Know This Much Is True and The Hour I First Believed. She's Come Undone has been translated into eighteen languages and is read worldwide.
Chapter 1 Summary
She's Come Undone is a near-epic-length novel (465 pages) that follows the troubled life of Dolores Price from age four to age forty.
As the novel opens, readers meet four-year-old Dolores. It is 1956, and her family has just received their first television set. Four-year-old Dolores is fascinated, but, as forty-year-old Dolores now knows, that television "would be the beginning of our family's unraveling."
How that "unraveling" comes to pass takes a while for Dolores to understand. She begins by thinking about her father, who works as a property manager for Mrs. Masicotte. At age six, Dolores begins accompanying him on his many visits to his boss. Mrs. Masicotte and her father laugh and drink and generally ignore Dolores. It is clear to Dolores that "Daddy's" job involves a good deal more than collecting rent and fixing broken appliances.
Mrs. Masicotte gives her father lots of gifts, including Dolores's beloved television set. As the family watches various programs, her father occasionally utters racial epithets—another indication that Dolores's father is not a kind or tolerant person.
The gifts continue to come, each one larger than the other. The biggest is a used car that her father insists he bought from "the old lady." The visits between employee and boss become longer and more frequent, with bored Dolores in tow, stuck in Masicotte's stuffy living room with her ill-tempered cocker spaniel.
Not long after the purchase of the car, Dolores's mother has a big secret she shares with the family. She is pregnant. For many months, Dolores thinks about the baby. On Valentine's Day, Dolores is at school; she is surprised when her grandmother comes to pick her up instead of her mother.
There is bad news. The baby, whom they had named "Anthony, Jr.," died while Dolores's mother was giving birth; the cord wrapped around the baby's neck and strangled him, her father tearfully tells Dolores. She is surprised by her father's emotion.
The day before her mother comes home from the hospital, Dolores and her father load all of Anthony, Jr.'s things into the big car and drive them to the dump. "Daddy" instructs Dolores that their "job was to cheer Ma up and not even mention the baby."
Grandmother comes to stay with the family. Dolores's mother suffers from what doctors would now easily recognize as postpartum depression. Young Dolores seems to think...
(The entire section is 429 words.)
Chapter 2 Summary
Four years have passed since the death of Anthony, Jr. Dolores is now ten-and-a-half years old. The family has moved to a larger home, one of Mrs. Masciotte’s many properties. The move is good for Dolores. Her near-obsessive television watching is curtailed when she meets another girl her own age in the neighborhood, Jeannette.
Dolores has other reasons to avoid her home. Her mother’s postpartum depression has not abated. In fact, it has become more severe. She has developed obsessive-compulsive habits, such as counting the seconds that pass on the stove’s timer and answering the phone on a specific ring. Her largest obsession, however, is a pet parakeet that she has named Petey, a gift from Dolores's father in an effort to curb her mother's melancholy.
Dolores begins to resent the amount of affection her mother bestows on the bird. She understandably considers him a rival. Dolores decides to try to hurt her mother by refusing to kiss her anymore. She claims that since her mother kisses Petey on the beak, she is likely to contract a “bird disease.”
Dolores is beginning to have questions about sex, but her mother, wrapped in her own blanket of sadness, is not approachable. Dolores learns what she can via the imperfect knowledge of Jeanette, “eavesdropping, process of elimination, and filling in the blanks.” The two friends plan out their lives together: where they will live, their husbands’ names, and how many children they will have. The fantasy life makes them both happy.
One day, Dolores’s father comes home from work and announces a surprise. He is going to have an in-ground pool installed in the backyard. Dolores is ecstatic. Her mother, however, is panicked. Among her obsessions are children dying in freak accidents, and she is sure that a pool will soon drown any number of neighborhood toddlers. The adults get into a fight about the pool, and Dolores is told to go outside. She can hear them screaming at each other. She hears her father hitting her mother, slamming objects, and calling her a "whore." Suddenly they both burst through the front door. Her mother is close behind her father, who has something cupped in his hands. She pleads with him to stop, but he opens his hands and Petey flies away into the night sky.
Dolores is terrified and rides away on her bike. She does not come home for a number of hours. She returns to find her mother with fresh bruises. Her...
(The entire section is 657 words.)
Chapter 3 Summary
Dolores’s mother is having a nervous breakdown. She stays in her robe and does not wash her hair. One morning, she awakens to find Petey dead at the bottom of his cage. She becomes even more despondent and uncommunicative.
Dolores is in the home virtually alone. Her father has not only to another city, but he has taken up with a new woman and opened a flower shop with his girlfriend. Despite his distance and separation, Dolores calls him, frightened by her mother’s behavior. It is decided that Dolores must go live with her grandmother.
The move away from Jeanette and familiarity proves difficult for Dolores. She is tormented by two bad-tempered twin girls, Rosalie and Stacia, every day as she walks to school. To make matters worse, Jeanette stops sending letters. Dolores feels very alone.
One day, she receives an unexpected package from her mother, who has lived in a mental hospital since Dolores alerted her father. The painting is one she had created in art therapy. It is odd to say the least. A woman’s disembodied leg floats against a blue sky and clouds. On the foot is a red high-heeled shoe. From its thigh “grew parakeet-green wings.” Dolores does not know what to make of the painting. She hides it behind her bed.
In August, Grandma enrolls Dolores in parochial school, a first for the former public school student. Dolores is scared; she has heard nothing but frightening stories about Catholic school. To make matters worse, the twins also go to St. Anthony’s.
At lunchtime, Dolores tries to sit with various students but is shunned or ignored. Back in class, Dolores discovers one of the photographs in her history textbook has been altered to look as if the teenagers in the photo are saying pornographic things.
The twins continue to make life miserable for Dolores, especially Rosalie. Dolores has an idea. When Rosalie’s attention is turned elsewhere, Dolores exchanges her history textbook for Rosalie’s. Then, at confession, Dolores claims that she did not tell anyone that she had seen Rosalie create “filthy, immoral things” in her book. For her omission, she asks for forgiveness.
At the end of the day, there is a “surprise” inspection of students’ textbooks. Rosalie, of course, is caught, and her punishment is very severe. Every afternoon for the next month, Rosalie must stand with her nose in the center of an X on the blackboard....
(The entire section is 454 words.)
Chapter 4 Summary
Dolores’s mother comes home from the hospital in January, but to Dolores, this person seems to be both her mother and not her mother. She has lost a lot of weight. Her eyebrows are plucked. She smokes. She has developed a twitch.
Ma has decided that she needs to go back to work. Grandma lines up a janitorial job at the rectory, but her mother refuses to take it. The generation gaps between grandmother, mother, and granddaughter create tension all around. Grandma disapproves of her mother’s choices in life, claiming that in her day, “women knew their place.” Grandma and Dolores spar over her granddaughter's love of The Beatles.
Ma tries to bond with Dolores. She invites her to go on walks, which Dolores reluctantly does. She quizzes Dolores on vocabulary words and tries to tell Dolores how she feels about being in her childhood home with her own mother: repressed and unhappy. Ma says her therapist at the hospital told her she had been raised in an “unhealthy environment.”
Ma considers Dolores. She says Dolores has not changed and is relieved about that; at the hospital, Ma was afraid Dolores would change so much that she would not recognize her. Dolores finds this ironic. Outwardly she might not look much different, but on the inside, Dolores has changed so much. Dolores thinks about how she dealt with Rosalie, how she has begun writing poems in her diary, and how she has been spending a lot of time with Roberta, the tattoo artist who lives and works across the street from Grandma’s house, a woman Grandma finds morally reprehensible.
Dolores’s thoughts are interrupted by Ma’s admonition, “Just don’t ever let it happen to you,” which means, "Do not ever let a man dominate your life." Ma returns to quizzing Dolores on her vocabulary words: “Paradox: a situation which seems contradictory but is nevertheless true.”
This definition compels Dolores to show her mother how different she truly has become. Dolores picks up a cigarette and lights it. She tells her mother about the tormenting twins and how she dealt with them.
Dolores spends more time with Roberta at the tattoo parlor. She is surprised to hear more about her grandmother’s life. Roberta considers her to be a “scared little girl.” Dolores is reminded of the definition of “paradox.”
Ma gets a job as a tollbooth collector. She also begins dating Iggy, a small Italian man whom...
(The entire section is 525 words.)
Chapter 5 Summary
Dolores gets to know her new upstairs neighbors. Rita Speight, twenty-eight years old, is beautiful, “like a little China doll.” She works as a pediatrics nurse. Jack Speight, twenty-five years old, is a disc jockey for a local rock-and-roll station. The house immediately becomes merrier. Dolores’s mother seems quite smitten by Jack. Even Grandma is charmed. Dolores is thrilled to have such liveliness in her home.
The Speights end up going to the same church as their landlords. One Sunday, Rita invites the three women upstairs for a dinner. Nothing fancy, she promises, just tacos and chili.
The three arrive right on time. Rita flings open the door, shouting “Ole!” and they all admire her velvet sombrero. Dolores loves the way the couple has modernized the apartment: beanbag chairs, a velvet painting of an African American woman, and a fur-covered recliner.
Dolores’s mother indulges in the wine she has brought to the party, and Jack keeps refilling her glass. Everyone is relaxed, even Grandma. Jack asks Dolores if she knows who else shares her name. She does not. It is Dolores Del Rio, a famous Latin American movie star. Jack also tells her the meaning of her name in Spanish: “Our Lady of Sorrow.”
After the party, Dolores starts to develop a crush on Jack. She thinks about how his wife is “attractive but not pretty” and that she “just didn’t deserve him.” Dolores begins to neglect her chores around the house. Grandma complains, but her mother just does them for her.
Dolores tries to talk to her mother about boys. She asks her who she finds attractive. Her mother offhandedly names a few celebrities. Finally, Dolores is able to ask if she thinks Jack is attractive. Her mother plays dumb for a few seconds. She sidesteps the question, remarking instead on what a “cute couple” Jack and Rita make. Dolores sneers that Rita is not pretty.
Dolores asks about her mother’s brother, Eddie. Her uncle had died long before Dolores was born. At age 19, he drowned. Dolores thinks Eddie looks a little bit like Jack. She wants to know why neither her mother nor her grandmother ever talk about him. She is unsettled by the news that her grandmother did not cry at his funeral. Her mother says Dolores's grandmother was angry about it and “did a lot of slamming.” Dolores thinks her grandmother’s lack of sorrow means that she is a “cold bitch.” Mother and...
(The entire section is 463 words.)
Chapter 6 Summary
It is the first day of the new school year. Dolores is not happy about returning to school, and she is itchy in her woolen uniform. She thinks about how Jack is leaving for work around the same time she goes to school. She imagines him dropping her off in front of everyone in his sporty MG, to the envy of all lucky enough to see her.
But that morning, Jack had departed earlier than usual. Dolores dejectedly trudges to school. Upon her return home that afternoon, Dolores complains of a stomach ache. Her mother passes it off as eating too much greasy food. Dolores deliberately hurts her mother’s feelings by saying that the next time her mother goes crazy, Dolores will tell her it is due to bad eating habits. Her mother leaves her room.
Later that night, Dolores is doing her homework at the kitchen table. Suddenly, Jack is outside the door. He claims that their fan has broken upstairs and wants to know if Dolores and her mother have a screwdriver to fix it. They do not. Jack offers to drive Dolores to school in the future. Of course, she accepts.
Jack goes back to his apartment, but Dolores is not ready to let him leave. She hurriedly changes into a cuter shirt, yanks out the cord of her own fan, and delivers it upstairs. He gratefully takes the fan and offers her some ice cream, which she accepts. As they talk, Jack sits close enough to Dolores to brush against her leg. He confides in her about his problems at work—a stodgy boss and an unappreciative audience. For her part, Dolores tells him her private thoughts about her callous grandmother.
Jack seems to feel that they have developed a bond. He asks Dolores if she can keep a secret. She agrees, and he tells her that Rita is pregnant. However, since they have already had two miscarriages, Rita is reluctant to tell anyone the news. Jack claims that Rita would “go nuts” if she knew he had told Dolores. He also tells her he may not have a secure position at the station.
These private revelations are too much for Dolores to handle. She says she has to go, yet she does not move. Jack teases her: “You and me against the bad guys, right?” He touches her bare foot. He begins to tickle her. She objects, squealing, yet he continues. She knocks over a tower of beer cans with her foot, and this seems to snap him out of it. He stops but stays on top of her. She tells him to get off. Dolores begins to cry, then apologizes for acting “so...
(The entire section is 592 words.)
Chapter 7 Summary
Jack begins picking Dolores up from school several days a week, but never on specific days. He is moody: one day he is jovial; the next, morose. On his depressed days, he complains to Dolores about his life with Rita and the upcoming, oppressive responsibility of having to provide for both her and a baby. Some days, their route home would be long and circuitous for no apparent purpose. Dolores tells her grandmother she has joined a club at school to cover up for the days she comes home late. When she is home, Dolores begins comforting herself more often with food.
Dolores has fantasies about Rita and her baby, imagining that Rita is too infirm to care for the child and hands it over to Dolores to raise with Jack. At school, Dolores chooses to write a research paper on fetal development. Jack continues to insist that she tell no one, not even her mother. He wonders if he can trust her. Dolores assures him that he can.
One day, Jack, in an agitated state, picks up Dolores. He tells her he has been given a one-month notice at his job and then will be unemployed. He tells Dolores they are going on a “little adventure” and drinks from a flask. They drive and drive until they are far out in the country. Jack pulls off the road. Dolores notices a sign that says “Animal Shelter.” Jack says he is looking for a reservoir and that there is a “waterfall somewhere around here.” She wants to know why he is taking her to this place. Jack says he thinks about it often and about her very often as well.
He goes up to the shelter door but it is locked. Penned up dogs bark angrily, but he calls out for Dolores to come see the dogs. She does so, but hesitantly. When she comes to stand beside him, Jack puts his hand on the small of her back. Soon he asks to kiss her. Dolores says no but he kisses her anyway. He tries again. She repels him again. They get back in the car. He asks her if she thinks about sex. He takes out a magazine from the glove compartment and shows her a photograph of a woman giving a man oral sex. He puts his hand between her legs. Dolores bolts from the car and runs. Jack catches her, knocks her down, and rapes her.
After it is over, Jack sobs as he drives her home. He tries to convince her that she was just as complicit in their sexual intercourse as was he. He threatens to kill himself, Rita, and their unborn child if she tells anyone.
Rita miscarries the baby a week after...
(The entire section is 504 words.)
Chapter 8 Summary
Chapter 8 begins Part 2 of She’s Come Undone. This section is titled “Whales.”
The chapter opens with an introduction to Dolores’s high school guidance counselor, Mr. Pucci. Dolores recalls that he had been her “only friend during my miserable three and a half years at the school.”
Mr. Pucci calls Dolores his “pal.” The two spend a lot of time talking in his office. Many of the other students make fun of the counselor. He lisps and seems effeminate. Dolores, however, is protective and defends him. Mr. Pucci defends Dolores as well. Since her freshman year, Dolores has gone from being slightly overweight to obese. When, as a gag, some of the football players nominate Dolores for Spirit Week queen, Mr. Pucci calls all of their parents.
However, in the spring of her senior year, Mr. Pucci betrays her, or so Dolores thinks. He calls a meeting between Dolores, her mother, and himself. He wants to talk about her future, specifically to press for Dolores to go to college. He tells them both that to pass up the opportunity may well be something Dolores will regret for the rest of her life.
The word “regret” compels Dolores’s mother to take action. Ma regrets agreeing to Dolores’s demands to tell no one about the rape, not even her father, and to not press charges against Jack. She has decided that what is best is just to “pretend it never happened.” It is a decision she is not comfortable having made.
To soothe her conscience, and stave off more regret, Ma agrees to let Dolores leave St. Anthony’s. She pays for a tutor to come to the home instead. And despite Dolores’s ability to run the tutors off, Ma remains resolute. Dolores will go to college. When Dolores stubbornly refuses to write her college application essays, her mother stays up all night writing one for her. The subject was to write on the person the student most admires. Her mother selects Trisha Nixon, the prim and proper daughter of President Richard Nixon, about as complete opposite a person as one could get from Dolores herself.
Dolores is unimpressed with the essay. She tells her mother that the letter would not even get her into a “school for retards.” Ma becomes very angry. “I am not…some piece of dog crap!” Ma yells.
To Dolores’s surprise, she is accepted into Merton College. Dolores balks. She screams that she will not take the...
(The entire section is 598 words.)
Chapter 9 Summary
Dolores bides her time at home, dreading the day when she must leave for Merton. One day, she is surprised to find an enthusiastic letter from her roommate-to-be, a girl named “Kittpy Strednicki.” Despite the letters, Dolores still does not want to go. She and her mother argue. Ma says she does not want Dolores to end up like her, but she was tired of fighting about it. Dolores, despite having “won” the argument, feels adrift.
At 3:15 that morning, Dolores is awakened by voices in the parlor. A police cruiser is outside. She hears bits of the conversation as she silently creeps down the stairs: "an out-of-state truck," "asleep at the wheel," "out of the booth." Ma has been killed in a freak accident at the tollbooth. Dolores faints and falls down the stairs, breaking the banister and badly injuring her forehead.
The days until her mother’s funeral are agony, endurable only through “nerve pills” from her grandmother and a visit from Mr. Tucci, who brings her a lush African violet. The two watch as Neil Armstrong becomes the first man to walk on the moon.
Dolores is overcome by guilt. She feels that she must carry some sort of curse. Her mother died. Rita’s baby died. She was the common denominator. For both deaths, she feels responsible. “I deserved this pain, was owed my misery,” she believes.
Her father shows up at the wake. She has no sympathy for him at all, and she does not want him there. “You killed us both, you bastard,” she thinks. She orders him out. He leaves.
The next day, Dolores decides that she will not attend the funeral. Grandma is horrified but Dolores will not change her mind. Alone in the house, Dolores looks at the pictures of her mother that line the stairwell. Dolores marvels at the fact that her mother, this young girl in the pictures, has no idea of the horrors that await her in life.
The pain Dolores experiences emotionally is unbearable. Ironing her clothes for the funeral, she places her hand on the hot iron for as long as she can stand it. At that moment, physical pain is preferable to the emotional pain.
Cradling her burned hand, Dolores goes into her mother’s room for the first time since her death. She sits at her desk and decides then and there to give a gift to her mother: she will go to college. She writes a letter back to Kippy for the first time, feigning enthusiasm which she does not feel but forces...
(The entire section is 480 words.)
Chapter 10 Summary
It is getting closer to September and the time Dolores must leave her grandmother’s home and go live in the dorms at Merton. To her surprise, Grandma hands Dolores her mother’s bank book. Dolores is shocked to discover that her mother has been saving for her college education for years, depositing money into the account every two weeks until the day she died.
Dolores begins writing letters more frequently to her roommate-to-be, Kippy. In the letters, she invents a life for herself that does not exist in reality: professional jobs for her parents and an English boyfriend named “Derrick.” Kippy writes back, and as the two correspond, Kippy reveals more about her life and Dolores continues to create fanciful lies about her own.
Grandma has had the banister repaired, the one Dolores broke into pieces when she fainted. Grandma decides that, as long as they are doing renovations, she might as well update the wallpaper. She finds someone to do it, but his arrival will conflict with a trip she wanted to take with some of her friends. Dolores assures her that she will be all right at home alone and that she can handle the man who comes to put up the wallpaper.
Even though Dolores has reassured her and urged her to go, her grandmother is reluctant. Instead of giving Dolores an answer, Grandma piddles around the living room, dusting. Grandma pauses so frequently that Dolores asks if she is having dizzy spells. No, she says. She is pausing because she keeps getting lost in memories. Grandma spends time doing something she has seldom done when talking to Dolores: she tells stories about her mother and her uncle, Eddie. Dolores is not even sure she is talking to her exactly, just that Grandma is reminiscing aloud and that she does not want to miss a single word. Dolores stays as still and quiet as possible.
Grandma remembers how Eddie would follow her everywhere. She recalls how eager her mother was, as a child, to be given a task to do. She cannot believe that she has outlived both her son and her daughter. Grandma’s pain is palpable. It changes the way Dolores thinks of her grandmother.
Grandma finally decides she will go on the trip after all. Dolores watches as their neighbor, Mrs. Mumphrey, packs her into her car and drives away. Alone in the house, Dolores had planned to start investigating, to poke around and find out what she could about her mother’s life. Instead, she becomes...
(The entire section is 538 words.)
Chapter 11 Summary
The wallpaper man shows up for the job. He looks like a hippie with long, curly hair and shirtless overalls. He is also quite cheerful. He asks Dolores if there is a radio he can listen to while he works.
Dolores has prepared for the arrival of a male stranger in her home by hiding knives in every room of the house, just in case this man might try to rape her. Even though he seems harmless, she is still uncomfortable being alone in the house with him. She decides to go visit Mr. Pucci, who lives about five miles away. Dolores calls a taxi.
When she arrives and rings the bell, Dolores is surprised when a man she does not know opens the door. He tells her Mr. Pucci is not home. Dolores is forlorn. She asks if she may wait, since she has come such a long way. The man agrees but seems uneasy in her presence.
As she waits, the man assumes she is a fellow teacher. Dolores says she is a student and the man finally tells her his name is Gary. He says Mr. Pucci has talked to him about her in the past. Dolores is confused about who Gary is in relation to “Buddy,” as Gary calls Mr. Pucci. He laughs nervously and says “Oh, we’re roommates.” Dolores realizes they are lovers but does not say anything. Gary goes to the jukebox in the living room and selects a Billie Holiday recording. Dolores is transfixed by her voice.
Mr. Pucci arrives home and seems a bit wary of Dolores’s presence. He drives her home. He wants to chat about her going to college and how proud her mother would be, but Dolores interrupts to ask him about Gary. She says that if he and Gary “are homos…it doesn’t bother me in the least.” Mr. Pucci claims they are just roommates. Dolores and Mr. Pucci part on a tense note.
At home, Dolores finds the wallpaper man in the backyard, meditating. The two begin talking. His name is Larry, and he has a wife named Ruthie and a sixteen-month-old daughter named Tia. Later, Larry calls to check on them. Ruthie wants to get out of their place because of a flea problem. Mostly because she really wants to see the baby, Dolores invites them over for supper and says they can all sleep there for the night.
Dolores is smitten with Ruthie and Tia. Ruthie tells her about the adventures the family has had working for VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America). Dolores, Ruthie, and Larry smoke a joint while making supper. Eventually, they all fall asleep. Dolores is awakened in the...
(The entire section is 507 words.)
Chapter 12 Summary
After a grueling ten-hour bus ride, Dolores arrives at Merton College and her dorm. Something is amiss though. The parking lot is empty, and there is not a soul to be seen. For a few minutes, she entertains fantasies of the college having shut down. She decides to tap on the glass of her dorm building and is surprised when a cleaning woman comes to the door.
The cleaning woman wants to know what Dolores is doing there so early. She says students are not expected for another week. Dolores is incredulous. She is certain she has the right date. She hurriedly paws through her suitcase in order to find the letter from Merton to prove herself in the right. Of course, it is she who is mistaken. The date she mistook for her arrival date on the letter was actually a payment due date.
Forlorn, Dolores has no idea what to do. She cannot expect any buses to be running back to her hometown at that late hour. The cleaning lady does not want to let her in, but finally agrees that she can spend the night as long as she does not turn on any lights. Dolores thinks about her mother’s dahlias that did not survive their transplant when her father decided to put in the pool. Dolores feels fairly sure that she, like those flowers, also will not make it through the move.
In the dark, Dolores is convinced that she has made a terrible mistake and questions Ruthie’s advice to try new adventures. She tries to read by flashlight and consumes vending machine food until she finally falls asleep on her lumpy mattress.
As she slumbers, Dolores dreams of a fish that can speak. The fish tells her to follow and dives into the water. Dolores obeys; somehow, she knows the fish is her mother.
Dolores is pulled from her reverie by the persistent ringing of a phone. Groggily, she stumbles to the hall and answers it. The caller is Dottie, the cleaning woman who admitted her into the dorm. She tells Dolores she will bring them both some breakfast.
In the morning, over day-old pastries, Dottie tries her best to bond with Dolores. She too is lonely. She too is overweight. Dottie wants very much for Dolores to be her friend. For Dolores, the fact that her weight is an attraction rather than a repulsion is something new. Dottie invites Dolores to her house for dinner and to see her fish. She wipes some of the frosting from a donut off of Dolores’s chin and licks her finger.
(The entire section is 436 words.)
Chapter 13 Summary
A week finally passes, and the students begin arriving in droves to the campus. Kippy, Dolores's new roommate, is among them, the girl with whom she had been exchanging letters all summer. In those letters, Dolores invented a life for herself much more interesting than the one she truly lived. Dolores also neglected to mention her weight problem.
When Kippy bursts into their shared dorm room, along with her mother and father, she is dumbfounded. Dolores is in the middle of consuming a birthday cake; her jeans are unsnapped. No one says a word. They all stare at Dolores. Kippy is confused; she thinks she must have the wrong room. Kippy is expecting the person from those letters, not the fat woman who stands before her. While Kippy mumbles on about the “mix-up,” Dolores hurries to get the mail that is waiting for her new roomie. She tells Kippy she has a letter from her boyfriend, Dante.
Dolores excuses herself from the room, taking the cake with her and saying they probably want some time alone to unpack. As she exits, she can hear Kippy throwing a fit to her parents about living with “that hippopotamus!”
That evening, there is a required meet-and-greet of the housemates in the downstairs lounge. Dolores feels uncomfortable in the gaggle of perfect-looking, and thin, freshmen and sophomore girls. She becomes even more disconcerted when some of the returning students make fun of “two-ton Dottie.” Dolores is shocked to hear them call Dottie a “lezzie.”
Back in their room, Kippy looks none too pleased. Apparently her request to change rooms, and roommates, had been denied. Despite her obvious anger, Dolores tries to be nice. She says pleasant things about her parents and remarks on the picture of Dante, complimenting his good looks. Dolores tries to revisit topics which Kippy had written about in her letters. Kippy hisses that she had not written anything. She does not want anyone in the dorm to think she ever has had anything to do with fat Dolores.
Shortly after the disastrous meeting, there is a picnic supper. All the dorms are going and Dolores decides to attend as well. She tries not to call any attention to herself and eats sparingly. She watches as many of the thin girls take rides on the boys’ shoulders and chicken fight. Kippy falls off and injures her collarbone.
Kippy goes to the hospital, and Dolores returns to their dorm room. Alone, Dolores...
(The entire section is 555 words.)
Chapter 14 Summary
In an attempt to assuage her guilt about reading Kippy’s letters, and as an attempt to fit in and be accepted, Dolores becomes Kippy's errand runner. Dolores performs all kinds of tasks for her injured “friend.” Dolores pictures herself as Juliet’s nurse from Romeo and Juliet, “a good-hearted fussbudget, a woman who spoke her piece but knew her place.”
When Kippy decides that Dolores will be the one to send and retrieve her mail, Dolores moves from just reading Kippy's correspondence to actually stealing it. Dolores reads and keeps Dante’s letters and trashes those Kippy writes to Dante. Dolores justifies her actions by telling herself that Kippy does not deserve Dante and she is doing him a favor by withholding her letters and saving him from her wiles.
In the dorm building, Dolores tries hard to avoid Dottie. She knows that associating herself with this woman so reviled by her housemates will result in being even more ostracized. Finally, Dottie manages to confront Dolores about her avoidance. Dolores claims that she has just been really busy studying. In fact, Dolores has not studied at all; she rarely even goes to class.
Dottie has noticed how Dolores has been waiting on Kippy hand-and-foot. Dottie tells Dolores that Dolores is being a fool, that Kippy says terrible things about Dolores behind her back. Dolores defends Kippy, but in her heart she knows it is probably true. When Dolores returns to her room, she refuses to fetch Kippy a soda when she asks for one.
Dolores reveals one of the reasons she continually misses classes. In order to avoid being seen even partially naked by any of the girls in her dorm, she has been showering at night, sometimes in the very wee hours of the morning. She skips the classes because she oversleeps. Her absences are noticed by the Dean of Women. Dolores also has skirted all of the house activities, something that has come to the attention of Marcia, the coordinator of events for the dorm. She insists that Dolores take part in the upcoming Halloween party. Dolores reluctantly agrees. She has little choice.
Dolores receives a phone call from Dottie. Dottie wants her to come to her house. Dolores tries to get out of it, but when Dottie tells her there is something she just has to tell her about Kippy, Dolores agrees. Dottie tells Dolores that she loves her. Dolores is unsettled by the frank admission.
(The entire section is 587 words.)
Chapter 15 Summary
Preparations are in full-swing for Hooten Hall’s Halloween party. Naomi and Dolores are relatively safe as they serve spiked punch behind a table. The evening is going tolerably well until Eric, one of the boys from another dorm, thinks that it will be great fun to pick on Dolores. He grabs her by the wrist and pretends to dance with her, becoming more sexually aggressive with each passing second. Dolores reacts instinctively and knees Eric hard in the groin. He collapses in pain. Dolores runs away.
Dolores thinks about the immediate aftermath of Eric’s assault. She remembers how she hid behind a dumpster, shivering for hours. When she finally returned to her dorm room, she discovered that Eric had trashed all of her possessions. Her mother's painting was not spared; he broke the frame and split the canvass in two. He did not find the hidden pictures of Dante, or the money she still had from Arthur Music, the man who had accidentally killed her mother. The damage to the painting is viscerally painful to Dolores, and she cries out, “Ma!” Shakily, Dolores grabs a pair of scissors and salvages whet she can of the painting, a square which depicts a “green tip of a wing against the cool blue sky.” She stuffed the square into her backpack and ran out to Dottie’s waiting car.
Dottie has bought them both dinner: greasy, fried clams. Their pungent odor permeates the car. Once they arrive at her home, Dottie opens beers for them both and shows Dolores her fish. Dolores notices a picture of a small boy above one of the tanks. He is clearly disabled. Dottie snatches it down when Dolores looks away, but later tells her the child is her son. Dottie had to have him institutionalized. He died at fourteen months old.
Dolores thinks about Dottie and her loss as she washes up their dessert dishes. Dottie comes up behind Dolores and puts her chin on her shoulder. She tells Dolores once again that she loves her. She begins rubbing Dolores in a very sexual manner. She tells Dolores no one will care what “two big fat mamas” do and kisses her. Dolores lets her do so. Before long, Dottie has led Dolores to her bed. They take turns pleasuring themselves to orgasm.
Dolores awakens before Dottie does. Dolores is horrified by what she has done. She pours bleach into Dottie's fish tanks, killing them instantly. Dolores then summons a taxi and, with the money she still has from her mother’s killer, asks the...
(The entire section is 443 words.)
Chapter 16 Summary
Dolores sits in the cab and tries not to think at all as mile after mile stretches on from Philadelphia to Cape Cod. She tries to quash any conversation her driver, Domingos, initiates, but eventually it is Dolores who begins talking. She asks Domingos if he believes in God. He is incredulous and says that he does. Dolores does not want to believe that any god would allow her mother to die.
As they continue on in relative silence, Dolores begins to contemplate suicide. She thinks that the world would be better “rid of the the Fat Girl Monster.” She takes some satisfaction in imagining the guilt Eric and Kippy will feel when they learn of her death.
When the driver stops for gas, Dolores goes inside and buys a paper. She hopes to find out more about the whales that have beached themselves in the town of Wellfleet, the reason she selected this location in the first place. Dolores falls asleep in the car. Domingos wakes her up, telling her that they have arrived. He tells her that a whale is visible on the beach where he has pulled the car over. Dolores refuses to get out of the car. Domingos goes on without her. A news helicopter hovers overhead.
Dolores decides to get out after all. She climbs over the dunes, sees the massive whale, and is amazed. Its head points to the sea. Dolores is distraught. She wants someone to do something, to push it back into the ocean, but Domingos tells her it is too late. The whale is dead.
Actually, the whale was not quite dead. Dolores and Domingos go in for a closer look. They hear gasps and gurgles. The tail suddenly raises up and slaps the sand, but it is clear that these are the whale's last moments live.
Domingos delivers Dolores to a motel. They exchange some awkward small talk until Domingos exits. Dolores feels very lonely in her room. She thinks about death. She deliberately burns her bedspread with a cigarette. After she puts out the smoldering material, she reaches for the donut bag Domingos had left behind. Inside is $300 of the $400 she had given him for cab fare.
In one of the motel’s nightstands, Dolores finds some postcards. She considers using them to send suicide notes. She imagines sending one to her mother’s childhood friend, Geneva. Geneva is in one of the pictures with her mother that hangs on Grandma’s staircase. Dolores knows the two women had written letters back and forth all of their lives, but...
(The entire section is 540 words.)
Chapter 17 Summary
Chapter 17 begins Part 3 of She’s Come Undone and is titled “The Flying Leg.”
Dolores has had a nervous breakdown. She has been institutionalized at a facility called “Gracewood,” where, she recalls, she spent the next seven years of her life. Geneva Sweet, her mother’s friend, had located Dolores in Cape Cod via the clues about the beached whales. It is Geneva who is paying for Dolores’s care.
Dolores is unable to recall most of her earlier years at Gracewood, as most of the time she was tranquilized and did little else other than stare at a television. She is given forced injections and feels violated, as if she is being raped all over again.
Dolores goes through a number of therapists until she gets to Dr. Shaw. His approach is different; he calls himself “a bit of a maverick.” Unlike her previous psychologists, Dr. Shaw knows how to work with Dolores. He forces her to confront the unpleasant things that Dolores has been repressing, including her rape. He teaches Dolores a technique called “visualization.” Dolores loses most of her weight by picturing her food covered with mold. In this way, she loses the desire to eat and sheds pounds fairly quickly.
Through their work together, Shaw is able to draw Dolores out more and more. Shaw confronts Dolores about her frequent use of profanity. She uses it as a shield, he muses, to keep others from getting close to her. Dolores opens up about her mixed feelings regarding sexual intercourse. Mostly, she feels that sex is violent and intrusive. Yet she also recalls the way her mother had cradled her breasts, longing for the touch of her father. She remembers, too, how much Ruthie had desired Larry and how engaged both partners had been in their lovemaking.
As the sessions continue, Dr. Shaw discovers Dolores’s great need for a mother. His unconventional answer is to take Dolores back to the womb and “re-parent” her all over again. He will act as her “mother.” He repeatedly asks for her trust. Dolores finally agrees. They begin their sessions in the hospital’s pool, where Dolores is “born.”
Dr. Shaw gets in the water with this patient. He pretends that he is pregnant with Dolores. He tells her that he can feel her moving around inside of him. He plays some music for the “fetus,” some Mozart to “soothe” her. He gets out of the pool to plug in his radio…and nearly kills himself...
(The entire section is 442 words.)
Chapter 18 Summary
Dolores continues her “re-parenting” work with Dr. Shaw. Emotionally, she is now at age ten. Dr. Shaw takes her to a toy store for her “birthday” and tells her to select a gift. Dolores chooses an “Etch-a-Sketch." Dolores becomes mesmerized with the device. Dr. Shaw becomes annoyed with her when, during their sessions, she focuses on little else other than making new drawings. For Dolores, she feels she is “sketching (her) way to adolescence.”
Two years later, it is 1973. Dolores takes a huge leap, moving from the hospital to Gracewood’s “halfway house.” Emotionally, according to Shaw, Dolores is now twelve; it is one year before she will be raped. Dolores refuses to talk about it in therapy, despite Shaw’s repeated and various attempts to do so.
In therapy, Dr. Shaw tries to talk to Dolores as her mother, and as a mother would speak to a maturing young woman—that is, as more of an equal and less as a child. Dolores warms to this approach somewhat. As doctor and patient talk, Dolores begins to reveal things about her mother that she had previously completely repressed. With Shaw acting as her mother and Dolores as her almost-thirteen-year-old self, Dolores confronts her mother about the rape. She calls her a "slut" and a "liar." She tells her “mother” that she knows what she has been doing with Jack while Rita is at work: her mother has been sleeping with Jack.
The pain comes tumbling out of Dolores. She yells about Jack touching her feet at the apartment. She remembers the brutality of the rape. She was hurt that her mother was sleeping with Jack before the rape. She remembers her mother trying to assuage her own guilt afterwards by plying Dolores with food, essentially asking her daughter to “swallow the truth.”
Dolores wants and needs her mother to realize how sick the rape has made her. She wants to be absolved from the weight she has gained in order to hide her pain. She wants her mother to defend her when the doctor who gives her the physical for college calls her fat. She wants more than anything for her mother to understand the profound depths of her pain.
Dolores collapses against Dr. Shaw, weak from her revelations. Shaw is shaken by the intense emotion but exhilarated as well. He knows that Dolores has finally achieved the breakthrough that has been some eight years past due.
(The entire section is 407 words.)
Chapter 19 Summary
Dolores continues her therapy with Dr. Shaw, and through their work together, she achieves the ability to see her mother not as a “saint or a whore, but a fallible, sexual woman.” Dealing with her father is the next emotional mountain to climb. Dolores senses there is some sort of commonality between her father’s behavior and that of Jack Speight's, but she is not ready to deal with the implications of making that connection. She understands, however, that while her father was flawed, he was not what Jack was: a rapist.
It is now 1975. Dolores has been at Gracewood’s halfway house for two years. Dr. Shaw begins to hint that it is time to get a job. He knows of a position at a photo developing company. Dolores is afraid but agrees to give it a try. Within three months, she makes remarkable progress in her personal life. She quits smoking and opens her own checking account. She petitions for looser restrictions at Gracewood.
Developing the photographs of strangers gives Dolores insight into the lives of others. She sees all sorts of odd human behavior, from the pornographic to people obsessed with their dogs to a couple who takes pictures of themselves in various costumes while lying in coffins.
In December, Dolores receives a Christmas card from her father, which propels another discussion with Dr. Shaw. Dolores wants to just “let go of him.” Dr. Shaw asks if she thinks she is really able to do that.
Four months later, Dolores tells Dr. Shaw that she wants to quit therapy. Dr. Shaw is upset. He does not believe she is ready. Dolores tells him that she is tired of playing the “mother-daughter” game and is not even sure if it has helped, even though she is down to her lowest weight ever. She also tells Shaw that she has been going to see a psychic named Nadine because she is now more interested in the future than in the past. Dr. Shaw is not pleased with this information. He tells her that no one can predict the future; people are responsible for creating their own future and claiming their own happiness. Dolores does not take kindly to his criticism. She accuses him of wanting to continue playing god with her.
Dolores tells him about her Etch-a-Sketch portraits, which have evolved from common stick figures to copies of the works of master artists. She has thirty-six such pieces, carefully preserved in her room. Dr. Shaw changes the subject and asks if the psychic has...
(The entire section is 496 words.)
Chapter 20 Summary
Dolores is still working for the photo developing company. One day, she is processing a roll of film from a high school senior trip. As she flips through the various shots of smiling teenaged boys and girls, Dolores is shocked to recognize Dante as their teacher. The girl who had taken the shots, Eddie Ann, obviously has quite a crush on Mr. Davis. There are many shots of him at various times of the day and in various poses. Some he is aware of, and some he is not.
Dante's appearance in the photos seems like a sign to Dolores. She begins to think of Dante as her destiny, even though he looks nothing like the “husband” she had drawn for Nadine, the psychic.
Through the address Eddie Ann has provided for the return of her photographs, Dolores is able to find out where Dante lives: Providence, Rhode Island. She finds the exact location through a search of her library's telephone books. Dolores works overtime all summer, saving for her “new life.”
Dolores begins packing and getting ready to permanently leave Gatewood. One of the residents, Fred, is very sorry to see her go. He is in love with her but too shy to make any overt declarations. Dolores likes him but is put off by his acne. Still, as the bus pulls away and she witnesses Fred’s dejection, she wonders if she is doing the right thing.
Dolores has been busy setting up her new life from afar. She finds out the precise apartment building in which Dante resides and is pleased to find there is a vacancy. Dolores goes to a local salon and has her hair done. She is determined to start her life completely fresh and also wants to look good when she “bumps into” Dante.
That evening, Dolores accepts an invitation from her new landlords. Mrs. Wing and Mr. Massey, to come up to their apartment and have a drink. She tries to get as much information out of the couple as she can about Dante. She finds out that he is single but has dated frequently. She also learns he has a small garden in the rear of the property.
The next day, Dolores does meet Dante. She does not look her best, as she had been cleaning a particularly nasty stove left encrusted by the previous tenants. Dante does not seem to mind. He asks her for help with his car and Dolores complies. They spend the day talking. Dolores makes up stories about her past and claims to be a water color artist. They go out and pick fresh vegetables in his garden and cook dinner...
(The entire section is 566 words.)
Chapter 21 Summary
It is not long before Dolores takes over many of Dante's domestic chores. She washes his clothes. She irons his shirts. She vacuums his apartment. Dante nicknames her “Home Ec.”
One evening, as she is giving Dante a back massage, Dolores considers all the lies she has told him, both directly and by omission. There are small lies, like being a water color artist, and big lies, like saying she is on the "Pill." Her lies by omission include, of course, how she came to be in Rhode Island and her connection with Kippy in college.
When she is not caring for Dante, Dolores is at work. Shortly after arriving, she got a job at Grand Union, the local supermarket. Dolores really longs for a friend to talk to. She tries to make friends among the other cashiers, but they are uninterested in her companionship. Compelled by loneliness and a lack of connection in the world, Dolores writes a long letter to her grandmother. She tells Grandma all about Dante and his job as a high school English teacher. She claims that they are very much in love. She asks if it is all right if she and Dante come to visit at Christmas. Finally, Dolores asks her grandmother to tell her some specific things about her own life, such as how she and her husband fell in love.
Dolores waits and waits for a reply to her letter from Grandma but one never comes. Dante wants her to call as they need to know what to plan for Christmas break. Grandma answers and within minutes asks Dolores if she is “shacking up.” Dolores quickly changes the subject. Dolores tries to get her to answer those questions she had asked in the letter without success. Grandma does not want to go into those details. She claims she is a “private person” and does not know why Dolores would want to “stir up a hornet's nest.” However, to Dolores's surprise, she offers to pay for a small wedding. Dolores tells her that they have not even discussed marriage yet. Grandma tells Dolores that she is happy that she is in love, but that she cannot depend on love alone. “Love only gets you so far,” she warns.
After the conversation with her grandmother, Dolores resolves to tell Dante everything. She feels a sense of relief as she thinks about releasing the secrets of her parents, the stolen letters from Kippy, and her own mental break down. However, Dante arrives home in a foul mood. He has had an argument with his vice principal. When Dolores tries to calm him down,...
(The entire section is 680 words.)
Chapter 22 Summary
Dolores schedules an appointment for an abortion, but she does not want to go through with it. She is sure that the baby is a girl and has even named her: Vita Marie. She thinks that maybe Dante would love the baby if he actually saw her. She tells him that she has made the appointment one night as they prepare dinner. She hopes that he will take this last opportunity to change his mind. He says nothing about it. Instead, he tells her he has been invited to go skiing with a friend that weekend, but he will not go if she wants him to stay. He says he should be with her and help her through it, but his words are hollow and Dolores knows it.
Dante leaves for his ski vacation. Dolores cannot bear the thought of going through with the abortion completely alone. Tearfully, she approaches her landlady, Mrs. Wing. Mrs. Wing is sympathetic. She accompanies Dolores to the clinic and waits for her to come out. She gets Dolores's pain medication prescription filled and buys her some licorice.
The following Monday evening, Dante returns from his ski trip, looking healthy and windburned. Dolores is resentful. He claims that he too is “in mourning,” but minutes later is whistling as he unpacks his suitcase. Irritated, Dolores asks him why exactly he calls her “Home Ec.” He says it is just a teasing thing, but Dolores is not convinced. She asks him if she means more to him than just being a maid. Dante says what she means to him is love. It was the answer Dolores wanted, but somehow, “it wasn't enough.”
In January, despite her sense of doubt, Dolores and Dante decide to get married. Dolores, however, cannot be her old self. She fantasizes that Vita Marie has somehow survived the abortion. She begins smoking again. She finds she cannot have intercourse with Dante and not think about the vacuuming device that sucked out her baby. For his part, Dante becomes very angry when a literary magazine rejects his poem, “Love/Us.”
Dolores cannot get over her lack of desire for sex. Dante becomes sick of it, telling her he cannot stand this “pity party” every night. Dolores resolves to hide her grief from Dante and to try to live up to her new role as a bride-to-be.
Dante's parents arrive for the ceremony, as does Dolores's grandmother. The bus trip has been difficult for the old woman. She looks frazzled and tired. But later that evening, she makes her way to Dolores's room to give her two gifts:...
(The entire section is 481 words.)
Chapter 23 Summary
It is 1978. One spring afternoon, Dolores and Dante are invited to the new home of one of Dante's faculty members for dinner. Boomer and his wife, Paula, are exceedingly proud of their pre-fab home. Paula delights in telling Dolores how she got to customize all the features, right down to the dining room cabinets. She brags about how their sex life has improved since Boomer now feels so useful doing handyman tasks around the place. Dolores is envious—not of their home, but of their happiness.
Dolores thinks that if she and Dante also became homeowners, perhaps their marriage would improve too. She even hopes that if Dante becomes more content, he might change his mind about not wanting a baby. She begins saving as much money as she possibly can. Dante does not know about the stashed cash. He often proclaims himself to be uninterested in money, so Dolores handles all their bills. When the account reaches $4,000, Dolores goes to a bank and makes a woman explain to her financial options, like CDs and mortgage rates, until she is sure she understands.
At work, Dolores receives a promotion. Her accuracy and ability to work with customers has been noted by management; she is made head cashier and given a raise. The extra money puts Dolores that much closer to her goal of having enough money for the down payment on a home. She is delighted and writes her grandmother a long letter about her plans.
By 1979, Dolores has saved a total of $4,800. One night, Dante suffers a bout of insomnia. She tells him about the money in the hopes that it will quell his nerves. Dante is stunned. Dolores immediately tells him about her plans to buy them a house. She goes into detail about her dealings with a real estate agent so that he will know she has thought this through.
Dante immediately forbids it. He says that even though they might be able to afford the rent right now, he is seriously considering taking “an extended leave of absence” so that he can “write full time.” Dolores is angry. They argue. Dante belittles Dolores. In the morning, he treats her more gently and tells her he is going through a “hard time.” Dolores cries. She tries to tell herself Dante is nothing like her abusive father.
The next week, Dante drives Dolores to work every day, saying he needs to use the car. One afternoon she walks home and is dumbfounded to see a van sitting in their driveway. Dante is inside, trying to...
(The entire section is 676 words.)
Chapter 24 Summary
As Dante and Dolores continue their pointless, three-week road trip, Dolores realizes that the baby she aborted, Vita Marie, would have just had her first birthday. She has an incredibly clear vision of what her child would have looked like, even what she smells like. She considers the vision a gift, but from whom, she does not know.
When they finally see the road sign for New England, meaning they will be home soon, Dante strangely says he will be happy to “get home and get it over with.” What “it” is, Dolores does not know. Once they get to their house, Dante finally confesses. He has lost his job. Their sudden, long vacation, he says, was an attempt to “protect” her from “the gossip.”
Dante says that charges have been brought against him by the school board. He has been accused of statutory rape with one of his students. The school board gave him a choice: either resign or be charged. Dante claims he is innocent. Dolores wants to fight it. If he is innocent, she says, a lawyer can get him cleared. Dante objects. He says he just wants it to be over and does not want to fight. Dolores wonders what they will do for money since he will be blacklisted from teaching. Dante tells her to shut up.
Dolores takes a second job waiting tables at night to try to make ends meet. Dante stays home to “write,” but Dolores sees precious little evidence of his work. The house is a mess, and he does not do the chores he says he will do, like the laundry. Dante also puts on a lot of weight.
Dante and Dolores spend New Year's Eve with Boomer and Paula. It is 1980. Later that night, they get into an argument. Dante slaps Dolores. It sets off something in her. Instead of her usual cowering, she icily says, “Get this straight. I'm not your whipping girl. Don't you ever lay your hands on me again!”
The springtime finds Dante with renewed energy. He is planting in the garden again and reading classic novels. One of his poems is accepted by a magazine. He is much nicer to Dolores. He even half-jokingly hints that he might be open to having a baby. Dolores fervently hopes that their marriage has turned a corner.
One afternoon at work, Dolores reads about the death of Elvis Presley. His seeming happiness actually foretold his death, the article said. Many people act happily and put things in order before they die. The parallels...
(The entire section is 508 words.)
Chapter 25 Summary
On the drive back to Pennsylvania, Dante asks Dolores to take him back. He pleads for forgiveness and tells Dolores he needs her. Dolores is skeptical. She tells him she does not know why he would want her back; all he has ever done is criticize and correct her.
Before going to her grandmother's house, Dolores goes to the funeral home to make arrangements. When they arrive at her house, Dolores is taken aback by its emptiness. Grandma had sold off most of her possessions before her death. The home is almost bare. Hardest for Dolores to see is her mother's room; she is momentarily angry with her grandmother for not saving her mother's things. But then Dolores realizes her grandmother had been asking her for some time to come and take what she wanted to have of her mother's, but Dolores never got around to it. Her grandmother could only assume she was not interested and gave them away.
Dante begins hinting that he would like for them to move into her grandmother's home. Dolores wants to know why he married her in the first place. Dante claims it is for no reason other than his love.
At the wake, Dolores is happy to see that Mr. Pucci has arrived to pay his respects. She learns that Mr. Pucci and Gary still live together. Asking about Gary brings an unexpected look of pain to Mr. Pucci's face. Dolores thinks she has embarrassed him once again and apologizes. He absolves her, says they will always be connected, and that they will always be “pals.”
After the funeral, Dolores has a few of her grandmother's friends over to the house, despite a lack of seating. Dante abandons her to entertain them, claiming he must capture the spirit of a mood for a potential poem. Cleaning up after they leave, Dolores cries. She is interrupted by a knock at the door. It is Roberta, the woman who owns the tattoo parlor across the street. Roberta has aged considerably and does not look well, but the two bond again and talk for a long time.
After Roberta goes home, Dante tells Dolores that while she was downstairs, he was upstairs in her grandmother's room trying to write. There, he was overcome with the desire to masturbate, and did so in her that room, covered in Catholic icons. Dolores is disgusted, but he does not notice. Instead, he is eager to show her the poem.
Soon, Dolores and Dante head back home. Dante's defiling of her grandmother's room eats away at Dolores. When they stop at a fast...
(The entire section is 540 words.)
Chapter 26 Summary
Dolores and Dante begin divorce proceedings and split up their property via telephone. Roberta and Dolores spend much more time together; the relationship is mutually beneficial. Roberta suffers from Parkinson's disease, so Dolores helps her with chores her shaking hands cannot perform, such as doing the laundry. Roberta helps Dolores to overcome Dante's years emotional abuse, and she encourages Dolores to pursue a new life. Dolores takes the remnant she had salvaged of her mother's painting and has it framed, replacing the wedding picture of herself and Dante that had hung in the stairwell.
A short time later, Dolores gets a job at a gift shop. She helps Roberta make her home lighter and airier. Roberta continues her part-time job as a disc jockey. She has been given a “polka hour” several days a week. Dolores enjoys listening to her friend as she works, but one afternoon, an odd thing happens. The broadcast is repeating; something is wrong. Eventually Roberta returns to the air but Dolores can tell by the sound of her voice that something has happened. She is right. Later she discovers that Roberta had passed out and fallen.
The probate court finally settles her divorce. Dolores is awarded her grandmother's house and $3,100. Roberta urges her to buy a car with the money, but Dolores is entering a state of depression. Instead of a car, she purchases a big screen television and a satellite dish. She loses interest in her job and gets fired.
Soon she gets another job at a bakery, but her depression does not subside. Her housekeeping become slovenly. Two goldfish that she buys for company, but forgets to buy a bowl for, die in the kitchen sink in putrid water. Dolores resigns from the bakery.
In late August, she receives a letter from her father's wife informing her of his death. Dolores is frightened by her “absence of grief.” She does cry, but she knows her tears are for herself and not for him.
For the next few weeks, Dolores anesthetizes herself with non-stop television watching. Expecting Roberta one afternoon, Dolores is surprised to find Dante at her door instead. He is bringing a television from their home that Dolores had asked to be returned. With him is a very young woman he introduces as “Janice.” After they leave, Dolores decides she has had enough of the numbing television. She gets rid of both it and her satellite dish.
With the money she recovers from...
(The entire section is 429 words.)
Chapter 27 Summary
It is now 1984, two years since Dolores's divorce and her grandmother's death. The house is in need of repairs, a fact that cannot be denied when the ceiling begins to collapse. Cement chunks fall randomly and without warning. Both Roberta and Denise fear they will be hurt, but repair estimates are staggering. The two women do not have enough money to get the work done.
Eating dinner at their favorite Chinese restaurant, Roberta gets an idea. She proposes to the owner that she and Dolores start a delivery service. It is an immediate success and before long, the necessary money for the repairs has been saved.
Dolores is keeping very busy. In addition to their evening deliveries, she has also decided to enroll in night classes. The first class she signs up for is English. At first she feels panicky and considers dropping the class, but the professor selects her paper as one of the two best in the class to read aloud.
The other paper is from a student who has a hard time fitting in, literally, in the classroom. Thayer is not fat but very tall. He has to sit on the floor because the desks are too tiny. After class in the parking, Thayer is very complimentary of Dolores's writing and she of his. Dolores encourages him to try to sit closer to the group. She is worried that he will feel left out of their discussions.
That Christmas Eve, Dolores is happy to hear that one of her deliveries of Chinese food is to Mr. Pucci's home. He is pleased to see her, but as Dolores looks into their living room and sees Gary, she knows something is terribly wrong. Gary is a shadow of his former self, skeletal-thin and pale.
It turns out that Thayer has a home repair business. Dolores hires him to fix their crumbling ceiling. As he works, he tells Dolores about his teenaged son by a previous marriage. Arthur, or “Chilly J,” as he prefers to be called, is half black and half white. Roberta watches them as they chat. When Thayer leaves for the day, Roberta remarks that Dolores has a crush on him. Dolores denies it but Roberta knows better.
When it comes time to register for spring classes, Dolores signs up for a course on the history of feminism. She writes a paper on biological clocks and becomes concerned about her own limited time. After age thirty-five, a woman's chances of conceiving decline precipitously.
Mr. Pucci's lover dies. Dolores finds out it was from complications of AIDS...
(The entire section is 659 words.)
Chapter 28 Summary
Dolores is now thirty-four. Panic about AIDS has become wide-spread and irrational. Mr. Pucci's HIV positive status becomes a case of full-blown AIDS. When he goes in for testing and procedures, a nurse recognizes him as one of her son's teachers. She reports his status to the school board, an act that gets her fired but also causes Mr. Pucci to lose his job. He is too weak to fight for it. He decides to sell the home he had long shared with Gary. AIDS has affected his eyesight; he is going blind and can no longer tend to the household.
Dolores has a great deal to be concerned about these days. Not only does she worry about Mr. Pucci's and Roberta's declining health, she and Thayer are also trying to get pregnant. On their fourth attempt, Thayer once again tries to get Dolores to forget about raising their baby on her own and marry him. He acknowledges reservations because of her experience being married to Dante, but he assures her, both verbally and through his actions, that he is nothing like D.D. (his nickname for Dante, “Dante the Dork").
Thayer cannot fully understand why Dolores is so fearful of becoming his wife. She says it is not just Dante, but also her father's treatment of her mother, and watching her close friend, Mr. Pucci, go on without the man he loves. She thinks “happily-ever-after” is “a crock.” Thayer is both dejected and frustrated. He tells Dolores that he cannot go on doing what they do.
For two weeks, Dolores and Thayer do not see each other. During this time, Mr. Pucci takes a turn for the worse. Dolores knows he does not have much longer to live. When she goes to see him in the hospital, Mr. Pucci takes his final opportunity to give his “pal” a final piece of advice. He tells Dolores to marry Thayer. He tells her that in his lifetime, he has watched people treat each other poorly and come to regret it, himself included. Mr. Pucci does not want Dolores to waste time and miss out on real love.
Mr. Pucci dies. He leaves Dolores the jukebox she had admired so long ago. Dolores searches for some old records to put inside of it. As she is looking in her closet, she finds the Etch-a-Sketch she had created years ago for the psychic, who had asked her to draw the thing that would make her the most happy. Dolores looks at it again: a large man, with curly hair, and wire-rimmed glasses. It is Thayer.
The discovery is the final push Dolores needs to be...
(The entire section is 452 words.)
Chapter 29 Summary
In the final chapter of She's Come Undone, Dolores and Thayer are in the waiting room of a doctor's office. Both are nervous. To cope, Dolores tries to remain perfectly still. Thayer, on the other hand, chatters incessantly. Dolores notices that the walls are painted mauve, a color psychologists have deemed "soothing." Dolores feels anything but soothed.
When the doctor finally comes in with a plain manila folder, he does not keep them in suspense. He apologizes and tells the couple, “The procedure was not successful.” The doctor goes into detail about what might have gone wrong, but Dolores cannot hear him: she is numb.
Having tried for two years to get pregnant the normal way, Dolores and Thayer turned to in vitro fertilization. Six eggs were implanted, but none of them “took.” The doctor begins talking about trying again, but both Thayer and Dolores know that a lack of money means that this chance was their one and only opportunity. Thayer tells her not to worry about money, but Dolores knows that is impossible. They both try to accept their reality.
Thayer wants to take Dolores on a short vacation so that they can reconnect as a couple. Dolores's friend from school, Allyson, and Thayer's son agree to take turns caring for Roberta while they are away.
The destination Thayer has chosen is a surprise. Dolores tries to guess, but he will not reveal his secret. After some time traveling, Dolores spies a highway sign that reads, “Cape Cod and East.” Thayer is taking her whale watching.
As the couple settle into their seaside hotel, Dolores finds it impossible to sleep. She switches on a late night movie. It is the documentary Woodstock. As she watches, the camera pans to a young couple and their toddler. There, in that teeming throng, Dolores is thrilled to see her old...
(The entire section is 402 words.)