Listening to Wally Lamb

Author Wally Lamb gives a good reading. He was in Taos earlier this month for the Taos Summer Writers Conference and agreed to read for the SOMOS Summer Writers Series. Being a fan, I made sure I was there.

There’s a lot to like about Wally. He’s a former school teacher who got a big boost when Oprah Winfrey took notice of his early books. He volunteers teaching inmates at a women’s prison in Connecticut. He’s another talkative New Englander. 

And he gets inside his characters like Dolores Price in She’s Come Undone and Dominick Birdsey in I Know This Much Is True.

On that Wednesday evening, Wally read an entire chapter from his next book We Are Water. In Chapter Ten, Ruth Fletcher, cafeteria worker turned movie theater detective, tells her story following the death of her husband, Claude, from emphysema. His wake and funeral were delayed after the town was ravaged by a flood. Ruth rambles like she’s talking inside her head or speaking to the most forgiving listener. In the process, we learn about her family’s deepest secrets, most notably the consequences of being married to a hateful, racist man.

It was a long read. At the end I knew exactly how Ruth Fletcher looked, talked, and what she wore even though Wally offered no description. 

He talked about Oprah and answered questions from the audience. He told a story about a long-time correspondence he has had with a fan.

I brought his first three books for him to sign, including a rare, hard cover of his debut novel, She’s Come Undone. He told me hated the cover — an illustration of a woman bound in plastic cord at the beach — and now he has a say in what goes on the front of his books. I said I bought it for a buck at a library tag sale in Easthampton, Mass.

We talked only a bit because a line had formed behind me. You can’t hog the author at a reading. I would have liked to have gotten more from Wally Lamb but I’ll save it for when his new book comes out in October.