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.
Mary Prewitt: Owner, Ruthless Reader