Tag Archives: mental illness

It Sucked and Then I Cried – Heather Armstrong

How I had a Baby, a Breakdown, and a Much Needed Margarita

I have been reading Dooce.com for a few months now, and for most bloggers – “Dooce” is living the dream. Heather is a full-time blogger that makes enough money to support her family, and has recently written a book. The book doesn’t break any new ground, but is an accounting of the time period of her pregnancy and battle with post-partum depression. For a relatively new reader like me, I knew this existed and had glanced at the archives, so I don’t know if offered anything truly new, but it was a really engaging read.

I am please to report that Heather’s book-writing is a lot like her blog writing, and her voice is clear and personal. Her stories of pregnancy and all the things “no one ever tells you” is heartbreaking and terrifying and served as an excellent reminder to take my birth control medication. But her stories of how much she loves Leta make the whole thing seem worth it. Especially since even if I do have kids, and may eventually have to deal with post-partum depression, I wouldn’t have a regular history of chronic depression to contend with as well.

But, more than just an ode to motherhood – you realize that the true hero, in Heather’s eyes is her husband.  I have read a lot about mental illness, and the one thing I always come away with is how much it affects the people who love the patient. She holds her husband in high regard, and their love story is what remains, in my mind. Also, cute pictures of kids dressed up as frogs.

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The Hour I First Believed – Wally Lamb

I picked this book for new office Book Club (and at about 800 pages, no one will ever let me pick again!) so I can’t really blog about it yet, because some of my loyal readers are members of same book club. By loyal readers, I mean Carolann.

So, this is kind of a placeholder until after February 12th, but you know me. If I don’t write something down about this, I will forget.

This book is intense. It’s loopy, winding and vivid. I was in either Junior High School or High School when the shootings at Columbine happened, and this made it feel personal in a way that it didn’t when I remember it happening. It really made me think about what ties we choose to keep, the families we are given and the families we choose, and the fragility of the mental condition.  Apparently, he probably wanted me to think about faith and higher powers and all of that – but that never really works for me.

I really like Wally Lamb. For my high school honor’s paper I did a comparison of his two previous books and had some sort of thesis about how mental illness affects more than the afflicted.  I know, groundbreaking stuff. *snort*

A few things I like about the book/Lamb – the “callbacks” to the Birdseys and Dr. Patel from “I Know This Much is True.” I really love when authors create these fictional mini-universes inside reality. I also love that he gives epilogues and tells us where the characters ended up. After 800 pages, I want answers,  damnit! He delivers. I also love the name Caelum, but hate the name Velvet.

The other thing that drives me nuts? Stories within stories. Like, manuscripts people are writing that I have to read in the story. Or histories I am almost sure won’t have any bearing on the story as a whole. Luckily, I didn’t gloss over this too much because it eventually became pretty important and it really was interesting. I just think the editor could have reigned him in a bit more.

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Darkly Dreaming Dexter – Jeff Lindsay

This is the novel that the Showtime TV show “Dexter” is based on. I always love when I get to read both the book and see the movie/TV show because when done well, both mediums are pretty awesome. With a movie, I can see someone else’s vision of what something should or could look like. Sometimes it’s a disappointment, and sometimes it’s more awesome than my imagination could comprehend (LoTR). I really liked watching the whole TV series (so far) and then reading the book, because the TV show is awesome, but with the book, I can get some of the prose and inner dialogue that would make a TV show dull.

What’s so cool about this book? Almost  until the very last chapter, the book is a true-to-the-show mirror. And the writing is gorgeous. It’s very difficult (I imagine) to write about the mentally ill. I have read a lot of books about serial killers (gothy teen, remember?) and it either comes across as super technical or woo-woo-stream of consciousness stuff. Lindsay does a great job with these appropriately placed, euphonic, alliterative phrases along with decent dialogue and great direction.

So, I loved it because I could replay the TV scenes in my head, and overlay it with what I was reading (does that even make sense?) but I also loved it because the last chapter or so is such a drastic departure from the show that I am looking forward to read his next book (I think there are 2 or 3) to see where this “alternative, though original” storyline will go. I want to puzzle out why the TV folks went in a direction. It’s kind of like really well written fan fic.

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The Heroines: A Novel – Eileen Favorite

Posting an Amazon.com review seems to be working out for me…

On a picturesque acreage near Prairie Bluff, Ill., 13-year-old Penny Entwistle, and her mother, Anne Marie, run a retreat where literary heroines seek temporary refuge from their tragic destinies. Franny Glass, Madame Bovary, Scarlett O’Hara, Catherine Linton and others find respite from their varied crises, but must return to their books eventually and suffer the fate that awaits. Penny, in the first throes of teenage rebellion, has little patience for her mother and the heartbroken or otherwise distraught women Anne Marie refuses to counsel (lest she change the course of their stories). And Anne Marie lavishes on her heroine lodgers the attention her daughter longs for. But when a mythical Celtic knight arrives, searching for his lost heroine Deirdre, Penny gets caught up in a web of deception that lands her in the loony bin. While the staff diagnoses her fabulous story as an attempt to deal with the long-ago death of her father, her mother commits Penny as a means of protecting her from peculiar goings-on at the house, and Penny must rely on the very fictional characters her mother favors to help her.

I really loved the concept of this book. Fictional characters merging with our worlds, combined fates, etc. It just wasn’t … done well. Too much going on, not enough I care about, not enough interaction with the heroines themselves. There were so many stories introduced but not told, and too much paid to very YA-ish themes (unknown parentage, parent-daughter angst, etc.) I want more on this concept, but from a different author. Oh, and the chapter titles were just inane.

How many damn books can I read that take place (at least partially) in an insane asylum?!

It did make me want to read some of the classics that I haven’t, though. Especially Wuthering Heights and Madame Bovary

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Brother to Dragons, Companion to Owls – Jane Lindskold

Another great book. I am on a roll! This is the story of an insane, autistic girl who can only speak in quotations (usually Hamlet) and what happens to her when she is released from a mental asylum due to budget cuts. She meets up with Mole People (who are actually Jungle Book/Wolf People). The first part of the book is slow, but really picks up when it was discovered that she may not be so insane, but in fact really CAN hear what inanimate objects are saying. I actually liked the first part of the book better, but it was all in all, a really interesting concept. It also made me want to read Hamlet again – I don’t remember it being quite so gorgeous.

Things that stuck out/I liked:

  • Talking plastic dragons
  • Locks that reveal their codes
  • Underground societies
  • Cult Leaders who are crazy, but not evil (or are they?)
  • Crazy Old Ladies

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House of Happy Endings – Leslie Garis

Okay Page Turner fans – this is the last of the books I felt oddly obligated to read. And now that Frank is leaving on Friday, I will go back to my regular schedule.

So, this was a memoir about a girl whose grandparents and dad wrote a lot for the Stratemeyer Syndicate (Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, etc.) and whose grandpa wrote Uncle Wiggily. Essentially, it’s all about her dad’s mental illness (and the grandma’s) and her life. It’s supposed to be some sort of comparison about the happy life of the characters her family writes and the chaos that is her own. I actually wish they did a bit more about that – it’s what originally attracted me to the book – but instead it kind of becomes the story of her dad’s mental illness. He was a playwright I never heard of, so his specific story didn’t compel me – but the relationship she had with her dad was interesting and eerily familiar.

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The Woman Who Wouldn’t – Gene Wilder

Yes, that Gene Wilder. How could I resist reading a book by one of my favorite comedians? (If you never saw it – “The Frisco Kid.” Netflix it, I promise.) I couldn’t resist at the library, and the subject matter seemed innocuous enough. Two people meet and fall in love at a mental asylum. Sound familiar, anyone?

Anyway, this was more of a novella, and while it didn’t hurt my brain to read like, let’s say, an Ethan Hawke literary foray – I am not entirely sure why it was written. The plot is this: Early 1900’s, violinist did some crazy things during a performance. He is sent to some sort of wellness spa in the Black Forest. He meets and befriends Anton Chekhov (who the book is dedicated to) who is suffering from consumption. He gets a thing for this Belgian woman who is dying of stomach cancer. They court. Have an awkward sex scene (awkwardness compounded by the idea that my Gene wrote the word “penis”). Against his better judgment, he falls in love. They get married. Her cancer disappears when she gets pregnant. He is still a little crazy. They leave for American. Chekhov dies. The End.

That’s it. From what I can tell, I didn’t leave anything out. There was no real subtext or mini-plots or … anything. They liked to drink wine, very cold. That was as much color as I could get out of the story. I just can’t tell why this was written or what I am supposed to do with this. Odd.

I do want to read his autobiography though. Hopefully he doesn’t mention the word “willy.”

(Yeah, I read two books yesterday. I couldn’t but the autism book down, and I knew I was going to the library today, and this book was more of a novella than a novel.)

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