A well written academic book written in a style and at a scientific level that most of us can connect with, even if we can’t quite compute all the scholarly depth that make up the full picture. I definitely place myself in ‘the superficial understanding’ category but never felt intimidated by complexity. Wylie reexplores evolutionary biology bringing into play his clinical and philosophical knowledge and private observations in the fields of psychology, psychiatry, psychotherapy, and medicine. Wylie’s observations which build into a broad psychological theory that fits as a complementary extension to classic Darwinism, add considerably to our conventional understanding of human evolution. With the obvious exception of many dogmatic scripturalists, I think this book has a lot for all those interested in why we are what we are questions. Wylie adds to our understanding of personality evolution, looking at the intellectual creature that with all the psychological baggage we carry from our ancestors.
I did rather question some of what I read to be rather afterthought attempts to tie in sacred spirituality and philosophy. I guess some attempt at this is, though, beneficial if it might draw in all but the most dogmatic of ‘Abrahamists’. Anyway, arguably, religion could not be left out of a fully rounded ‘thesis’. Otherwise I had no personal issues with any ideas in this very well written book. Nearly always, Wylie found simple ways of distilling out the complexity of his arguments. A few more real-life anecdotes from Wylie’s career would I’m sure add a great deal of enjoyment for the general reader, without losing the focus required by the more scholastic. This is a serious book, exploring the whys and wherefores from a full range of psychological illnesses balanced against normal, (average), behaviours, that make us the deep thinking but not always rational creatures that we have become.
I have to confess that I did a thing which I am always telling people they shouldn't guilt themselves into doing...I read a book that I wasn't really all that interested in reading. My rationale was that I had gone out of my way (interlibrary loan from a different state) to get this book and I didn't want to admit that it wasn't worth the effort. *sigh*
The book that I'm referring to is Mine Own Executioner by Nigel Balchin. I want to give you a central theme or something to succinctly explain it but the closest I can manage is saying that it's about a man who is battling an inner turmoil while also trying to be a competent psycho-analyst. There's a lot of discussion around the validity of a medical degree vs hands-on training which leads to our main character, Felix Milne, taking on a very difficult case to 'prove' that he is just as capable as a medical professional. His patient was recently involved in a traumatic experience in the war and as a result he experienced a psychotic break from reality and tried to murder his wife. While Milne tries to uncover the root of this man's troubles he continues to ignore the cause of his own marital problems. He has a strained and virtually platonic relationship with his wife and actively struggles with his feelings for her best friend. I guess there's an irony there that he is able to ascertain and ultimately help heal what ails his patients but he can't clearly see that he is the cause of his own misfortunes and unhappiness. Milne is an acerbic and not altogether likable character who plays God with those he seeks to help (and his wife). He justifies this by saying that it's a necessary part of their treatment that they come to see him this way. I don't think I can say with any conviction that I liked this book. The characters were one dimensional, the plot was fairly predictable, and the ending was highly unsatisfactory. I can't even say that I recommend it to ________ or ________. 0/10
PS They made it into a film. Why?
What's Up Next: Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman
What I'm Currently Reading: Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places by Colin Dickey
I'm torn over this book. On one hand, any new resource is a good one. We have a dire need for more views on mental illness, and this writer husband needed an outlet. Many people in similar situations will gravitate to this in future, because it's one of very few similar books dedicated solely to mental illness. My heart goes out to anyone dealing with illness of a loved one. It's hard, and this man has the ability to just focus on his experience because he doesn't have to deal with the issues that quickly take over in 99.9% of cases in the US - inadequate care, lack of insurance, lack of resources, lack of support systems, huge financial hardship, homelessness...
This book does best early on, when he's furious, scared and confused at the sometimes arbitrary, often misleading and always rigid rules of psychiatric care. I highlighted huge sections of these early encounters with hospitals and staff because despite many feeling feel similarly, in the decades I've been in the field very little has changed beyond some nicer wording. So I cheered him for this.
My discomfort with the book came after that, when suddenly some really naive life choices are being made by a couple who has experienced an upsetting but single psychotic break. I have many questions I would like to ask, but that's not how books work.
Then there's the issue that these seem to be the luckiest two people on earth. Yes, even after the psychiatric diagnosis. Both have parents, family and friends alive, willing and able to drop everything, fly in from other countries and stay to help. There is not a single word in this book about the myriad ways insurance tries and usually succeeds in screwing the mentally ill - this would likely be because they can pay for treatment that isn't covered or because they stayed within an HMO-type system at Kaiser. Kaiser isn't known for cutting-edge mental health care, so perhaps that's why some things seemed strangely unexamined.
When her illness starts, both are able to quit jobs and even travel before they decide to start a family. Through it all they're still living a very nice lifestyle, despite it being far from the one they'd imagined. But that's how any illness works.
By the end, the book covers three episodes and hospitalizations in five years, and it seems like he thinks he's got it all worked out. Five years into severe psychiatric illness is a very short time. I don't even know that his lovely wife actually qualifies as severely mentally ill. She is able to hold down a job between her three episodes and has a between period. Of course it feels painstaking to all involved, but cancer of any stage feels painstaking, yet there are still stages.
Everyone has a right to tell their story. What I hope is that this book will not be anyone's sole resource. I just read another from Patrisse Khan-Cullers in When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir that shows a very different experience with a similar diagnosis in the same state. When it comes down to it, finances play a huge part in one's ability to get any care at all. Jail was the best the state of California could offer to her brother who had a well-documented lifelong case history.
Everyone has a right to tell their story, but this one felt a bit pat in the latter parts, like he has learned what the right things to say are, and he's saying them, but if I had this guy on my therapy couch, I'd be asking some tough questions about the pretty words. He got his feelings out, and that's what I got from this book: his feelings. It's a very one-sided, tiny slice of the beginning of his family's mental health journey. I wish them well, but I can't say I'd recommend this book to many people.
My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf is a graphic novel which was used as the basis for the documentary film of the same name which came out in 2017. This is the account of Jeffrey "Jeff" Dahmer during his adolescence in Ohio from the point-of-view of his friend, Derf. [A/N: I would say "friend" is pushing it as it was frequently noted throughout the book that while a group of boys dubbed themselves The Dahmer Fan Club and imitated him/quoted him on multiple occasions Jeff was rarely (if ever) asked to hang out with them.] Derf talks about Jeff's home life which was as you'd expect: turbulent and troubling. His parents had an argumentative, unhealthy relationship and his mother in particular monopolized much of the attention in the home making it possible for Jeff's habits to remain under the radar. Jeff was an alcoholic from a very early age and somehow this went unnoticed by the adults in his life including his teachers. However, Derf says that it was common knowledge among the kids at school that he was often drunk in class and looking back it was most likely a coping mechanism against his darker impulses. Besides his unhappy home life, he was struggling with his sexuality as a gay man and his sexual fantasies which revolved around having total (i.e. sexual) control over male corpses. He managed to keep this urge in check by murdering animals, skinning them, and keeping their bones in a shed behind his house. And yet no one had any idea this was happening. Hindsight is 20/20 and Derf seems to employ this readily when explaining that he and the other boys in the Dahmer Fan Club "knew" something wasn't right with Jeff which is why they often didn't invite him to be a part of their group activities. His parents were too caught up in their imploding marriage and his teachers seemed to have turned a blind eye even when he imitated people having epileptic fits to comic effect in their classrooms. (This bothered me a lot by the way.)
I found the informative background knowledge on a serial killer that I knew little about quite interesting but the artwork (remember this is a graphic novel) was not my cup of tea. It was the faces which I really didn't like. Perhaps that was artistic license since Dahmer tended to dehumanize his victims. I just know that it brought me out of the narrative more often than not. I'll give it a 7/10 overall because it was almost too unbelievable to be true. If you enjoy true crime and find the evolution of serial killers to be fascinating then you'd be remiss not to check this one out.
|The fits. [Source: American Book Center]|
What's Up Next: Mine Own Executioner by Nigel Balchin
What I'm Currently Reading: From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death by Caitlin Doughty