Matt Wilven does something wonderful and much needed with his debut novel, The Blackbird Singularity; he makes mental illness approachable and real. In an age when every act of mass violence is pegged either on radical fundamentalists or "crazy" people, having and managing a mental illness is an unheard of feat. The media tend to paint those with mental illness as unmanageable members of a society they refuse to fit into, implying that mental illness has something to do with choice. In fact, depressed individuals are often looked on with pity and given patronizing, though well-meaning, advice to "just cheer up". Those that suffer from ADD or ADHD are often told they simply need to meditate and focus on one thing at a time, as if those thoughts simply hadn't occurred to the sufferer before--they just needed your advice on what to do. Particularly with behavioral disorders, like bipolar and schizophrenia, there are a great many stereotypes that abound. This novel explores a case of grief-induced bipolar disorder and gives such an honest, unflinching look into the mind of someone with bipolar that it's hard to think of "crazy" in the same way as you did before this book.
The story centers around Vince, a writer, who stops taking his medication when he finds out that his wife is pregnant. Two years previously, they lost their young son to a terrible disease. After his death, Vince went off the deep end and almost took everything in his life with him. Finally, he was hospitalized in a psych ward and prescribed lithium for grief-induced bipolar. When he learns of his wife's new pregnancy, he hopes that he can be the person that he knows is underneath all the chemicals but is truly afraid that person is lost to him forever. He forges an unexpected friendship with a blackbird as the withdrawal from his medication begins to set in. Slowly, Vince loses his grip on reality, eventually driving his wife back to the home of her judgmental parents. All Vince wants is to prove that he can be a functioning person without medication but can he really go back to "normal"? Wilven sends his reader down the same dark path, wondering if the protagonist will ever recover or if the road to redemption is a delusion. There are so many things I want to say but I'm afraid of giving away the end, which was completely and entirely unexpected. The entire book will make you laugh, worry, gasp, cry, and, finally, smile. I thought this book was beautifully written and thoroughly haunting.
Wilven masterfully directs his reader through the dark and twisty narrative to a place of lightness and hope, leaving you with a final lesson: we must all make the choice to either be who we are or be who everyone else wants us to be. Being who you are can be a beautiful thing.
A must read for lovers of The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick, Madness by Marya Hornbacher or anything by Haruki Murakami (so much magical realism...)
I give it 5 out of 5 stars!
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Note: This book comes out in paperback November 1, 2016 & will be available at Foggy Pine Books.
Lisa Muir’s debut collection of short stories, Taking Down the Moon, is something you definitely don’t want to miss. With characters that feel so real they could step off the page to locations she vividly paints for your imagination to latch onto, these stories will grab you from the start. The women and men in her stories are weak and strong, pathetic and admirable, intelligent and willfully ignorant. They make you cringe with embarrassment, gape in horror, and shiver with anticipation. Truly, you’ll run the gamut of emotions reading this collection. It feels as if Muir orchestrated an emotional symphony, for you to dip into over and over again. It’s hard to say which story was my favorite but I will highlight a few that really spoke to me.
“The Louche Watermelon Queen”--I will preface this by saying that I am a huge fan of extremely short fictions, or flash fiction. This story is one page long and exquisite. As the first story in the series, it sets the tone for the rest of the stories perfectly. Even if you don’t read short story collections in order, you should still start with this one. A one-time beauty queen has grown older and gained weight. We all yearn for younger or better versions of ourselves but just how much would you wish for to acquire your desires? The Watermelon Queen speaks to the desperation you can feel when you don’t think you measure up and the darkness of mind that can follow.
“Albatross”--Hillary and Ben are young, intelligent, and in love. They have opportunities to travel, to explore, to reach for more and more. At least, that’s how Ben looks at it, as he begins seeking out yet another position with yet another university. They’d already moved across the world, from Virginia to New Zealand to appease his flightiness. And then from one island to another. It was only for a short time but the house the university provided was too cold, too damp, too small, too dark. Yet, Ben could never be happy, so he moves on again. Hillary must decide whether her movement depends on his and if her relationship with Ben is a happy one. And Ben must decide if his losses are worth the gains. Impeccably written, these characters feel so close to the reader, like you’re hearing the story through the phone, over miles of wires and satellite connections, as Hillary reveals the secrets of her New Zealand adventure.
“Essa”--This story felt like the beginning of a much longer one but was entirely stand alone. I think this one stuck out the most to me from the entire collection. Essa is a foundling, and a mixed race girl, in a small town of Ethan mostly made up of white people. She’s taken in by a local woman,30 years old, unmarried, and childless--Nadine. Nadine loves and cares for Essa but watches with despair as she grows up and begins to become a person completely unto herself. Who will Nadine be when she’s no longer taking care of Essa? Essa is barreling toward the future, youth and excitement fueling her desire to leave the small town she grew up in. Who will Essa become and who will she leave behind on her way there? The two women, mother and daughter, must move forward and find a way to maintain the bond that shaped their past.
There are many more great stories in this collection and we can’t wait to share it with you. Grab your copy at the store today for only $9.99! And don’t forget to attend Ms. Muir’s reading & talk at the Watauga County Public Library on Wednesday, August 3rd at 5:30pm. It will be a great opportunity to get some insight into the stories and to share your favorite passages with other literature aficionados. Recommended for people who enjoy Alice Munro and Flannery O'Connor.
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Rated 5 out of 5 stars
This novel was highly anticipated by the book community. So, when I finally got my copy, I couldn't wait to see what all the fuss was about. The hype wasn't wrong, that's for sure.
In her haunting debut, Emma Cline takes readers on a tragic journey across the landscape of one young girl's mind. Evie Boyd is 14 and it's the summer of 1969. She lives in California and the summer break from boarding school stretches out before her in the way that time can only react to a teenager. She is well off, has always had everything she could possibly need or want, but she's filled with a deep, unsettling malaise. The summer doesn't get off to a great start. Her parents have just divorced and, with her dad off playing house with the young woman who dissolved his marriage, Evie's mother is throwing herself into a recovery, of sorts. She brings a cast of characters home or stays out nights at a time, leaving Evie feeling isolated and forgotten. After a falling out with her childhood best friend, Evie meets an older girl, Suzanne. Suzanne is free, she says, not chained to the "straight" life. Evie is spellbound, both looking up to and loving Suzanne with a strength that surprises and confuses her, allowing her to forgive many faults. Evie falls in with Suzanne and her friends, eventually meeting Russell--the charismatic leader of their band of individualists--and her summer starts to unravel. What does it mean to be a part of a group? And how much will she risk to belong? What will she do for love? This book explores what it means to be a teenage girl: what desire means from that perspective, what love means, and what we are willing to endure (and to ignore) to be close to the ones that light us up. Cline addresses many hard topics with a brutality and openness that mimics a teenage summer--gone rotten, tinged with guilt and excitement.
I highly recommend this book to lovers of The Secret History by Donna Tartt or Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë.
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Rated 5 out of 5 stars
Mary Ruthless: Owner & Ruthless Reader