Tuesday, January 22, 2013

not a mystery--TOO BRIGHT TO HEAR TOO LOUD TO SEE by Juliann Garey

“We are able to find everything in our memory, which is like a dispensary or chemical laboratory in which chance steers our hand sometimes to a soothing drug and sometimes to a dangerous poison.”

                      --Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time

                         (This is the epigraph of Too Bright To Hear Too Loud To See.) 


Juliann Garey’s Too Bright Bright To Hear Too Loud To See spans the time of twelve thirty-second shock treatments.

Greyson Todd suffers from what a psychiatrist diagnoses as bipolar disorder type I. In the course of his treatment, Todd’s mind flashes through his life.

Todd is back with his abusive father from whom Todd apparently inherited the illness. He relives his awful feelings at the death of his mother. He courts his wife in the midst of insane scenes where he and she try to return the truckloads of Sears merchandise his manic father bought. He helps raise his infant daughter.

Todd’s own manic obsession and flashing brilliance lead him to become a rich, successful Hollywood executive. Then, inevitably his life falls apart. He leaves his wife and travels the world. (This section includes many manic, explicit, sex-filled scenes.)

Todd finds a friend who is a father to him. When that man dies, Todd crashes. And so it comes down to shock therapy with its memory-robbing consequences.

Greyson’s flashing thoughts are random. No matter how confused he might be, he expresses his thoughts clearly and beautifully. There is no Faulknerian prose here. And Todd’s thoughts lead to a realistic ending.

In this situation, hope is not a realistic ending. But at least there is a new beginning. And that’s all Todd can ask.

I read this book because I’ve known many people with bipolar illness. I was raised in the 1950’s on the grounds of a state mental hospital. Back in those “dark ages,” I heard my medical doctor father say again and again, “Mental illness is an illness just like any other illness.”

Later, I wondered why he said that. In some ways, it is not true. But that was back at a time when people still saw mental illness in fantastic ways. Some believed the mentally ill chose to be mentally ill. Some thought the alcohol and drug addiction were the cause, not the symptoms, of the illness. Or maybe symptom is not the right word. Maybe “cause” and “symptom” are inexplicably intertwined.

Some people thought the mentally ill were demon-possessed--literally possessed in the spiritual, not the figurative, sense.

Mental health professionals had to teach the general public a new way of seeing mental illness. My dad’s too-simple statement was a way to try to do that.

So I saw this book as authentic. Only the bipolar can really know for sure how true to life it is, but from the point of view of an outsider, I believed the story.

I rooted for Greyson Todd, knowing all the time he couldn’t possibly survive, at least not according to my traditional definition of survival.

You may or may not want to read this book. Some people are not comfortable reading truthful books about mental illness.  I’m glad I did.


Todd Mason said...

Excellent premise as well as apparent execution.

Joe Barone said...

Todd, I thought the book was wonderfully executed.