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 that the presence of her grandmother is causing her mother's sadness. Dolores says that she wants her grandmother gone. The grandmother leaves. Dolores feels powerful in her ability to make people do what she demands.