This Sunday, May 10, marks the debut of the HBO Limited Series "I Know This Much is True," starring Mark Ruffalo and based on the novel by Wally Lamb (I Know This Much is True; Harper Perennial/HarperCollins Publishers; paperback; $17.99).
Ruffalo stars as identical twin brothers Dominick and Thomas Birdsey in a family saga that follows their parallel lives in an epic story of betrayal, sacrifice, and forgiveness.
Dominick is a forty-year-old housepainter living in Three Rivers, Connecticut, who finds his subdued life disturbed when Thomas, a paranoid schizophrenic, commits a shocking act of self-mutilation. Dominick is forced to care for his brother as well as confront dark secrets and pain he has buried deep within himself.
This journey of the soul takes Dominick beyond his blue-collar New England town to Sicily's Mount Etna, the birthplace of his grandfather and namesake. Coming to terms with his life and lineage, he struggles to find forgiveness and finally rebuild himself beyond the haunted shadow of his troubled twin.
In addition to Ruffalo, it also stars Melissa Leo, Rosie O'Donnell, Archie Panjabi, Imogen Poots, John Procaccino, Rob Huebel, Philip Ettinger, Aisling Franciosi, Michal Greyeres Guillermo Diaz Marcello Fonte, Bruce Greenwood, Brian Goodman, with Juliette Lewis and Kahtryn Hahn.
The limited series is directed and written by Derek Cianfrance, and executive produced by Cianfrance, Ruffalo, Gregg Fienberg, Lynette Howell Taylor, Ben Browning, Glen Basner, Anya Epstein and Wally Lamb. Jamie Patricof co-executive produces.
Lamb writes I Know This Much is True in Dominick's voice, as in this excerpt: "When you're the sane brother of a schizophrenic identical twin, the tricky thing about saving yourself is the blood it leaves on your hands - the little inconvenience of the look-alike corpse at your feet. And if you're into both survival of the fittest and being your brother's keeper - if you've promised your dying mother - then say so long to sleep and hello to the middle of the night. Grab a book or a beer. Get used to Letterman's gap-toothed smile of the absurd, or the view of the bedroom ceiling, or the indifference of random selection. Take it from a godless insomniac. Take it from the uncrazy twin - the guy who beat the biochemical rap.
Five days after my brother's sacrifice in the public library, Dr. Ellis Moore, the surgeon who had grafted the flap over Thomas's wound, declared him out of the woods infection-wise and stable enough to be released. That same day, Dr. Moore filed a Physician's Emergency Certificate with the judge of probate, stating in writing that he found Thomas to be 'dangerous to himself and/or others.' This set into motion a mandatory fifteen-day observation period at the Three Rivers State Hospital complex. At the end of those fifteen days, one of three things would happen to my brother: he would be freed to face the breach of peace and assault charges that had been brought against him; he could commit himself voluntarily to the hospital for further treatment; or, if the treatment team evaluating Thomas felt his release might be harmful to himself or to the community he could be held involuntarily at the state hospital for a period of six months to a year, by order of the probate court.
By the time the paperwork was signed and the police escorts had arrived for the transfer, it was after 8:00 P.M. They put one of those Texas belts around Thomas's waist, then handcuffed him, taking care to snap on the left cuff six inches or so above his stump. when they locked the cuffs to the belt, it had the effect of making my brother slump forward in a posture of surrender. While an aide was getting Thomas into a wheelchair, I pulled the cops aside. 'Hey, look. This handcuff stuff is totally unnecessary,' I told them. 'Can't you let the guy have a little dignity while he's being wheeled out of here?'
The younger cop was short and brawny. The other was tall and tired and baggy-looking. 'It's standard procedure,' the older guy shrugged, not unsympathetically.
'He's potentially violent,' the younger cop added.
'No, he isn't,' I said. 'He was trying to stop a war. He's nonviolent.' I followed the guy's eyes down to my brother's missing hand.
'It's procedure,' the older cop repeated.
Thomas led the parade out of the hospital, the aide pushing his wheelchair down the hall, the two cops and me pulling up the rear. Everyone walking toward us risked sneaky little glances at my brother's restraints. I was holding Thomas's stuff for him: a get-well plant from my ex-wife, duffel bag, toiletry bag, his Bible.
The trip across town from Shanley Memorial to the state hospital is about five or six miles. Thomas asked me to ride in the cruiser with him; I could tell he was scared. At first, the younger cop hassled me about going with them, but then the older guy said I could. They made me ride shotgun up front. The older cop rode in back with Thomas.
At first nobody said anything. In between squawks from the police radio, the AM station was giving updates on Operation Desert Shield. 'If you ask me,' the cop in back said, 'Bush ought to show that crazy Hussein who's boss the same way Reagan showed 'em down in Grenada. Flex some muscle. Nip it in the bud.'
'That was Carter's whole problem with those tent-heads in Iran,' the younger guy agreed. 'He made the U.S. look like a bunch of wimps.'
Thomas had been given some kind of Valium cocktail for the road, but I was afraid their talk would rile him. I hunched toward the driver and mumbled a request that he change the subject. He gave no response except for a pissy look, but he did shut up.
Riding through downtown, we passed the McDonald's on Crescent Street where Thomas had worked briefly and the boarded-up Loew's Poli movie house where, once upon a time, my brother and I had shaken hands with Roy Rogers and Dale Evans during the town's three-hundredth anniversary celebration. We passed over the Sachem River Bridge. Passed Constantine Motors, the car dealership my ex-in-laws own. Passed the public library.
'Dominick?' Thomas called up to the front.
'How much longer?'
'We're about halfway.'"
|Wally Lamb. Provided by HarperCollins.|
About Wally Lamb: He is the author of six New York Times best-selling novels: I'll Take You There, We Are Water, Wishin' and Hopin,' The Hour I First Believed, I Know This Much is True, and She's Come Undone, and was twice selected for Oprah's Book Club. Lamb also edited Couldn't Keep It to Myself and I'll Fly Away, two volumes of essays from students in his writing workshop at York Correctional Institution, a women's prison in Connecticut, where he has been a volunteer facilitator for the past 17 years. For more on Wally Lamb, visit http://www.wallylamb.net/