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Is I Know This Much Is True a True Story?

May 10, 2020
4 min read

HBO’s ‘I Know This Much Is True’ is an emotionally riveting drama that follows the story of a pair of twins. One of them suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, and the other has his own demons to wrestle. The show tells their story through the years, focusing on how much they depend on each other and how isolated they feel from the rest of the world. The emotions ring true in a hard-hitting manner, which is what makes one wonder about the inspiration of the story. Is it based on real people? Here’s all you need to know.

Is I Know This Much Is True Based On a True Story?

No, ‘I Know This Much Is True’ is not based on a true story. It is based on the novel of the same name by Wally Lamb. According to Lamb, stories come to him in the form of characters, and he gets to know them over time, which is how the plot evolves as well. “When I wrote I Know This Much Is True, I began with the angry voice of a character named Dominick. I had no idea then that he had a brother, much less an identical twin, or that that twin’s mental illness would circumscribe his own life into adulthood,” he explained.

The reason behind the “angry voice” became clear to him when he realized that Thomas had schizophrenia. The inspiration for this came from a real-life incident. In 1992, when he was teaching at Norwich Free Academy, he had a student named Peter Mayock. “He was a pacifist and a religious zealot. During World War II, he took out one of his eyes and cut off his hand [in protest]. Because of what he did, he was locked away in Norwich State Hospital for decades,” Lamb said. When Lamb started writing Thomas’s arc, he remembered Mayock and used his story as a baseline for the character.

He was also influenced by the Norwich State Hospital, which was the largest state hospital for the mentally ill in Connecticut at the time. His maternal grandfather had a history there. A brain tumor caused him to become violent; he tried to kill his wife. Due to this, he had to spend the last few years of his life in the hospital. This made Lamb both scared as well as fascinated about the place. When it was closing, he took a tour and even got a diagnosis for Thomas from a psychiatrist.

Lamb has admitted that the characters in the novel don’t resemble his own, though he does share one similarity with them. He explained, “In my fiction, I’m interested in examining and depicting not only the ways in which trauma and loss derail the lives we may have imagined or planned, but also, and more importantly, how our responses to these can attest to the resilience of the human spirit. Thankfully, I have not had to endure the tragedies that befall my characters. But what we share in common is this: we are imperfect people living less than perfect lives yet trying to become better people.”

He also confessed that the stories he tells are nothing new. He had learned a long time ago, from one of his teachers, that all the stories that capture the essence of human emotions have already been told. They are presented to us in the form of the myths that have survived hundreds of years and are just as valid now as they were back when they were written. Lamb took this advice to heart and looked for his stories in the places where they already existed.

He said, “My contemporary novels are built on a scaffolding of ancient myth and stories from antiquity—tales that have withstood the test of time because people have needed them to be told and retold down through the ages. ‘I Know This Much Is True’ is based on an eerie Hindu myth I read in anthropologist Heinrich Zimmer’s The King and the Corpse. It’s the tale of an ineffectual ruler who learns the value of humility and responsibility by solving the riddles put before him by a sarcastic talking cadaver.”

His only hope from these stories is to “never to pen a protagonist so static and stunted that he or she simply repeats old patterns without having learned from the conflicts that have been negotiated. I would never ask readers to waste their time on so clueless a character, so pointless a plot.” One could say, without doubt, that he succeeds.

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