It is often difficult for me to read fiction in a vacuum; undistracted by the implications of the outside world and current events, focusing solely on the text as simply an authorial work. Academics would couch my baggage, bringing outside contexts that have seemingly little to do with the actual work, as a post-structuralist symptom. That is the inability of authors to separate themselves from the social structures of their daily lives; thus fiction is neither solely imaginative nor autobiographical but a byproduct of everything we’re exposed to and internalize. Very highfalutin, I know, but it brings me to Julianne Garey’s debut novel Too Bright to Hear Too Loud to See, a new novel concerning one man’s descent into bipolar disorder. (‘Descent’ is a bit of a misnomer of course as bipolar disorder, once called manic depression, is characterized by episodes of mania followed by depressive states.)
The outside baggage I toted along regarded the increasingly drowned out dialogue on mental illness. I say drowned out because following the Newtown massacre, the far more incendiary gun control shouting match…err dialogue…has drowned out or hushed completely a much needed conversation on the state of mental illness care. And while an expository book blog post isn’t the forum to ruminate on the nation’s health care system, I submit it as an example of a critical manner readers can use to approach fiction.
Garey’s approach to her subject is anything if full of heart: there is a fall from grace and there is redemption, highs and lows, and interminably emotional generosity. Though her plot arc became a bit predictable, for a debut author, who often fall victim to muddling ideas, her prose remained clear and lucid. Perhaps too lucid, if I can lodge a stickling complaint. There are occasions when Garey does her best to illustrate the protagonist’s illness, particularly his manic episodes, but some of these depictions felt too circumscribed, too limited to the author’s voice. I wanted to live the protagonist’s devolving mental state rather than being told about it. Pages of mania inspired gibberish (done artfully of course), delusions, obsessive and compulsive deviations from his normal behavior, paranoid scribblings…I don’t want to read the words REDRUM in bold typeface, I want to see it scrawled in dripping red letters by the hand of a psychotic child.