Too often in life reality doesn’t live up to our expectations. Such was not the case Friday night when I finally met Wally Lamb. It was everything I had hoped for and more. He was funny kind generous and completely down-to-earth.
Wally spoke at the Lyme Congregational Church at an event celebrating the Lyme Public Library’s centennial anniversary. He read from his new book We are Water which is scheduled for publication in November 2013. For over an hour he held the audience of almost 200 people spellbound. There was no rustling, no murmuring. You could hear a pin drop. After the reading he generously answered questions, told funny stories and signed books for another hour or more.
I had wanted to meet Wally since I read his first two novels She's Come Undone and I Know This Much is True and heard him speak at the Connecticut Library Association conference many years ago. His books and his characters affect me in a way that few others do. Part of it is that his books are set here in southeastern Connecticut. But I think also it's because his characters are so human. Often at our book club meetings someone makes the comment “I didn't like this book because I hated the characters.” I often feel the same way. It's hard for me to like a book if I can't identify with the characters. Wally's characters are flawed and sometimes damaged. They don't always act wisely. They sometimes do stupid, destructive things. But in Wally's hands their humanity comes through, and I end up rooting for them and feeling for them. It was the same with Friday's reading. It was heartbreaking but punctuated with moments of humor. I can't wait for We are Water to be published.
Another reason I admire Wally so much is his work in the writing program with the women at the York Correctional Institute. Most of us hope we can make a difference in the world or at least our little corner of it. Wally does that. He, along with other volunteers including Library Board member Susan Cole, help the women acquire self-awareness; help instill self-confidence, and a sense of achievement and self-worth. He has helped them publish two books of their writing, Couldn’t Keep it to Myself: Testimonies from Our Imprisoned Sisters and I’ll Fly Away: Further Testimonies from the Women of York Prison. If you haven’t read them, they will open your eyes. Yes the women are prisoners and were convicted of crimes. But most of them have endured a level of horror and violence in their lives that most of us cannot even comprehend. Many of them will never leave the prison. But of those who have been released and who spent meaningful time in the writers program, not one has returned to date. Wally’s commitment and dedication to the women and the writing program over the last 15 years is remarkable considering the demands of his own career and accompanying fame.
I told Wally that meeting him is one of the highlights of my 27+ years at the Lyme Library. I meant it. Sometimes life does not disappoint.