Monday, August 5, 2013

Book Review: Too Bright To Hear Too Loud To See

When I opened the brown package and slid this brightly colored novel from its packaging, I felt a pang of nervousness. Knowing already that the entire book was written from the perspective of a man with severe Bipolar 1, I wasn't sure how this thing would make me feel. 

The experiences that Greyson Todd- author Juliann Garey's protagonist- works his way through are largely outside of my own up close and personal with Bipolar. Bipolar 1 is the facet of this disease that most people think of when they hear the word bipolar- mania, horrible highs and even more horrible lows, cheating, stealing, paranoid thinking, long sweaty hours of creative productivity and depressions of catatonia. 

Juliann Garey writes Greyson's voice with a ferocity; a landslide of words erupt from the page in description of the wildly unhinged interior life of Greyson as he is swept away completely by his disease. The novels opens with Greyson in the suffocating emotional expectations of his small family- his wife and little daughter. What happens afterward is unbelievable and realistic, both.

Of course, certain passages rang so clear and familiar that small welts of anxiety rose in my stomach:

'You always think maybe you're just tired. Or coming down with something. Or under a lot of stress. Or overthinking things. Or second guessing yourself, doubting the choices you've made. You always think you just need a break from work and friends and the phone and your family. That you just need a rest.

You think you should have an answer to the question: " What's wrong? " You wish you knew. No one can understand how much you wish you knew. You know you  must be horrible to live with, to be around. Because you cannot stand to be you-to be in your own skin. You think you should be able to promise it will stop a month from last Friday. You can't imagine it will ever stop. You would do anything to make it stop. Instead you just say maybe you need another day to lie in bed. And then you take another and another and another and twenty more. And think you'd rather not get up at all. Ever. Over. You want it over. '

There is much at the baseline of Bipolar that remains the same, whatever category of the disease it erupts as. And Juliann Garey captures the mania particularly well, sweeping us away so that we can understand eventually what would happen to a person who makes the choices that Greyson Todd makes. 

The writing can be particularly interesting and developed in descriptions of people- Garey has a good eye for the absorbing detail, and isn't afraid to move confidently into the world of madness and sexuality. The novel isn't paced well, and that feeling of being swept away into a confident, skilled writer and then let drop into a clumsy scene that doesn't resonate is irritating, and ironically mimics the swings of bipolar. 

' She has round hips and a substantial ass and big, heavy breasts. But what I like best about Miren is the enormous black thatch of ungroomed pubic hair between her legs and the little tufts under her arms to match. My passion for female armpit hair is a relatively recent development. ... if only these women knew what a huge turn-on it is to wander the sidewalks and markets here and to feel as if every woman who hails a cab or opens an umbrella is flashing me, allowing me to steal a glimpse of her little pocket- size vagina.'

At the end of Garey's wild ride, there is a slow coming together of himself and daughter that begins slightly off key but works its way into some wonderfully alive writing with a recognizable portrait, to this lost daughter, of a father in the grips of mental illness and a daughter in the throes of waking to the fact that reality is not a story her mother told her, or the interpretation of her father, but instead, her own experience.

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