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.
It took a while to get into this one. As I was about to give up, I cheated and skipped to the final chapter, read three sentences, squished my face into an "aww man" and decided I had to know how they got from where I was (chapter 13-ish?) to there. So I turned back with some real chagrin and read on.
The more I read, the more I liked the story and the more I liked the story, the more I liked almost everyone involved in this family -- Chabon's family? Good question. I note that it won awards for fiction, but it seems like nonfiction-y fiction or fictionalized nonfiction, or some blend of the two. It's essays, a novel, biography, historic, dramatic, funny and a bunch of other stuff: like a family, I guess. Is it sad? Well, only in the way that everyone's life has some sadness and grief involved. It's not sad overall though, not by a long shot.
Moonglow is a wild ride that starts at the bedside of one man dying which turns into a lifetime, a family's story, a very American story - complete with redemptive arcs, great scenes of cities I love, and real vitality. It feels so real because of the little details and the nuances that I haven't found in Chabon's other work. It's very different from the other work in some ways, yet there's always those metaphors. Apparently he inherited that ability, says the [fictionalized nonfiction-ish] grandfather.
It's clear that Chabon has a very close understanding of the convoluted underpinnings, including street names, neighborhoods, buildings, businesses, and a real love of the family about which he writes. I wish I'd felt the love before I did. It took me a long time to care about these people. I felt rather divorced from the story being told for far too long. It goes on wild tangents -- sometimes they work beautifully (the story of the snake hunting is a prime example of a beautiful tangent that tells a lovely tangent of a story that tells us important things about the main character) and sometimes they just fell flat for me. It was during one of those moments that I almost abandoned the book.
I'm not a skimmer, thank goodness. If one skims in this story, one will miss something that turns out to be vital many pages later. Not in the sense of "what?" but more in the sense of why it matters. I'd imagine it's hard to write a story where all at once you're in the present and past, explaining why someone is finally telling you things you've been angry at them for not telling your whole life. Perhaps this fictionalized way was the only way to get some of this family's secrets out?
It's very hard to believe this is plain ole fiction - no matter how good. (Unless maybe that explains all the awards.) I doubt it's for everyone. I thought it wasn't for me, but I found myself wishing I'd known the family of the narrator (who is never called Michael Chabon, but who has a very similar life to Michael Chabon.) I'm glad I read it, and I was sorry when it ended. I've moved on, but the characters and their warm spirits - especially an awkward, flawed, yet fiercely loving grandfather -- will stay with me for a long time.
“Everyone wanted me to feed them that story—darkness to light, weakness to strength, broken to whole. I wanted it, too.” ― John Green, Turtles All the Way Down
If I was 14, I'd have adored this book and thought it was brilliant. I'm not, so it was not meant for me and that made it a bit harder to judge. I can only be me, so here goes:
Nicely, this book is NOT a well-worn yet unrealistic "moving story of courage and hope bringing darkness into light with a complete cure of mental illness along the way." It's NOT the perfect YA romance where everyone skips off to (somehow free?) college at the very best schools in the world while still maintaining their young romances. It's not a lot of clichés, but it contains others. The most favored quote at Goodreads is one that is well-worn in therapy circles ("Your now is not your forever.")
I'm not exactly sure what it IS, but I'm not entirely sure that matters. If pressed, I'd call it a mental health story, I guess.
The portrayal of mental illness was pleasantly realistic. Not debilitated a hundred percent of the time, the main character Aza Holmes manages to have good grades, friends, drive and not drool while still being under the care of meds and a shrink. But we still see her life disrupted by this illness. The hovering mom was a nice touch too.
The friendships seem real and very high school/teenaged. Intense and fun, silly and emotional - real. Also, I love the title. I hoped when we got to the reason for it, it might have a little more impact, but it worked well enough for me. There are added plot lines in this novel, but if you've read other John Green, you'll notice similarities between Aza and what is usually the male character (Quentin, Colin, or Miles) and find a bit of Margo, Alaska and/or Katherine in Davis Pickett.
These these teenagers also can quote poetry and literature while analyzing the nature of self within the universe. Even now I don't possess the presence to have Edna St. Vincent Millay tripping off my tongue whilst on a date. The teenage romance was realistic in all but the way they wrapped it up -- which again reminds me of John Green. I can't get mad at an author for writing what he always writes. Do I wish he'd stretch a bit more over these many years? Of course, but I knew this was his book when I opened it.
Back to the romance: teenagers are usually known for their hormones and the ability of said hormones to make them emotional wrecks. Our main teenagers are nothing like that. They are more adult about romance than many adult divorcing couples I've known through the years (c.f. Paper Towns.)
“...no one ever says good-bye unless they want to see you again.”
― John Green, Turtles All the Way Down
Somewhat odd for Mr. Green, there is a loose mystery that could have worked if the extent of it wasn't internet searches. It served as a device to get Aza and Daisy on the same ground with Davis, and give Davis something about which to be wistful and brooding. All of which needed to happen for this book to be...this book, but it is hard not to see it as purely a way to give a leg up to other themes. As it is, there's a half-baked mystery hanging around the edges of a YA philosophical think-piece.
For me Daisy Ramirez nearly steals the show. As irritating as she could possibly be, she's probably annoying because she's the most realistic teenager of the bunch. Everything about her is absurd, including her job, and because of that, she's pretty awesome. The only thing that made me want to kill the author was the use of "Holmesy" as her moniker for Aza in literally every single conversation they had -- often multiple times. It's way too close to "homie" though it's probably a nod to Sherlock given that half-baked mystery I just mentioned. There's something weird about making a character with a Latino-sounding name the poor kid who uses something too close to street slang and exists as as a side-kick to the main WASP that doesn't sit well with me, but I loved Daisy nonetheless.
All in all I liked this but it didn't blow my skirt up. It wasn't as good as I had hoped (yet another reason to wait many years before reading books with buzz.) It wasn't bad. I'm glad I own a copy on audio because that will make it easier to revisit on a long drive someday, and I have a few younger people in my family who will enjoy listening to it.