cover image COULDN'T KEEP IT TO MYSELF: Testimonies from Our Imprisoned Sisters

COULDN'T KEEP IT TO MYSELF: Testimonies from Our Imprisoned Sisters

Wally Lamb, . . Regan, $24.95 (368pp) ISBN 978-0-06-053429-5

Bestselling author and Oprah Winfrey favorite Lamb (She's Come Undone; I Know This Much Is True) takes a cue from Winfrey herself in collecting and editing this book of writings gleaned from a workshop he conducted for the female inmates of Connecticut's York Correctional Institution. The result is an intriguing and powerful collection of unlikely literary debuts. Although the 11 selections cover the range one might expect from writings plucked from a women's prison—tales of broken homes, poverty, violence, teenage pregnancy, race and gender bias, and, of course, crime and punishment—Lamb succeeds in giving the collection an intense, recognizable emotional core reminiscent of his blockbuster debut novel, She's Come Undone. Indeed, each selection bears the marks of Lamb's heavy involvement—the clipped yet elegant prose and the delicate, occasionally humorous manner in which difficult emotional situations are rendered. Standout selections include Nancy Whiteley's opening remembrance of her troubled adolescence and Diane Bartholomew's artfully rendered, heart-wrenching "Snapshots of My Early Life." As a sad footnote, Bartholomew, whom Lamb credits with inspiring the success of the workshop, will never see her opus in print. Sent to prison in 1990 for murdering her abusive husband, Bartholomew was stricken with cancer while serving her sentence and died in November 2001. In his introduction, Lamb calls the workshop "a journey rich with laughter, tears, [and] heart-stopping leaps of faith." To the credit of Lamb and his authors, this book, the end product of the workshop, is as well. (On sale Feb. 1)

Forecast:Although this book is a departure for Lamb, fans of She's Come Undone will undoubtedly enjoy it.