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review 2017-08-25 12:18
A good psychological portrayal of a young man suffering from schizophrenia and a mystery that is not all in his mind.
The Unraveling of Brendan Meeks - Brian Cohn

I’m writing this review as part of Rosie’s Book Review Team. If you are an author and are looking for reviews, I recommend you check here, as she manages a great group of reviewers and if they like your book, you’ve made it!

Having read and enjoyed Brian Cohn’s previous novel The Last Detective  (you can check my review here), I was very intrigued by his new novel. Although it also promised a mystery/thriller of sorts, this one was set firmly in the present, well, as firmly as anything can be when told by a character suffering from paranoid schizophrenia who rarely takes his medication. As I am a psychiatrist, and I read many thrillers, the book had a double interest for me.

As the description says, the story is told is narrated, in the first person, by the main character, the Brendan Meeks of the title. Although he is from a good family and had an affluent (if not the happiest) childhood, his mental illness disrupted his education (he was studying a masters in computer sciences at the time), and his life. He now lives in a rundown apartment in St. Louis, surrounded by other marginal characters (a war veteran suffering from PTSD who never leaves the house, a drug-addict girl whose dealer has become something more personal, an understanding Bosnian landlord…). His main support is his sister Wendy. When she dies, he decides to investigate her death, and things get even more complicated, as his brain starts making connections and seeing coincidences that might or might not be really there.

Brendan is the perfect example of an unreliable narrator. His mental illness makes him misinterpret things, give ominous meanings to random events, and believe that everything that happens relates to him and “the code”. Brendan hears voices, abusive voices, mostly in the second person, that give him orders, insult him, tell him to harm himself and others… He has a complex system of paranoid delusions, all related to a “code” he believes was implanted in his brain, and he is convinced that there is a conspiracy of various agencies (mostly men dressed in dark suits driving black SUVs) that will stop at nothing to try and recover that information. Thanks to his parents’ money (as this is the USA, his access to care would be limited otherwise) he sees a psychiatrist once a week, but he rarely takes medication, as he is convinced that if he does, he won’t be able to escape these agents that are after him. Yes, the medication helps with the voices, but it does not seem to touch his delusions (if it is all a delusion). There are several points in the novel when Brendan ends up in hospital and is given medication, and then he seems to hold it together for a while, enough to go after some clues and make some enquiries, but the longer he goes without medication, the more we doubt anything we read and wonder if any of the connections his brain makes are real or just a part of his illness.

I thought the depiction of Brendan’s mental illness and symptoms was very well done. It brought to my mind conversations with many of my patients, including his use of loud music or the radio to drown the voices, his feelings about the medication, his self-doubt, the attitude of others towards him (most of the characters are very understanding and friendly towards Brendan, although he faces doubt and disbelief a few times, not surprisingly, especially in his dealings with the police and the authorities), and his thought processes. He is a likeable and relatable character, faced with an incredibly difficult situation, but determined to keep going no matter what. His sister’s death motivates him to focus and concentrate on something other than himself and his own worries, and that, ultimately, is what helps him move on and accept the possibility of a more positive future. He also shows at times, flashes of the humour that was in evidence in the author’s previous novel, although here less dark and less often (as it again fluctuates according to the character’s experiences).

The narration is fluid and fast, the pace changing in keeping with the point of view and the mental state of the protagonist. There are clues to the later discoveries from early on (and I did guess a few of the plot points) although the narrator’s mental state creates a good deal of confusion and doubt. The rest of the characters are less well-drawn than Brendan, although that also fits in with the narration style (we only learn as much as he tell us or thinks about them at the time, including his doubts and suspicions when he is not well), and the same goes for his altered perceptions of places and events (sometimes offering plenty of detail about unimportant things, and others paying hardly any attention at all).

Where the book did not work that well for me was when it came to the mystery/thriller part of it. There are inconsistencies and plot holes that I don’t think can be put down to the mental state or the altered perception of the character. There is an important plot point that did not fit in for me and tested my suspension of disbelief (in fact made me wonder if the level of unreliability extended beyond what the novel seemed to suggest up to that point and I became even more suspicious of everything), and I suspect readers who love police procedural stories will also wonder about a few of the things that happen and how they all fit together, but, otherwise, there are plenty of twists, and as I said, the build-up of the character and the depiction of his world and perspective is well achieved. Although the subject matter includes drugs, overdoses, corruption, child neglect, difficult family situations, abuse, adultery, and murder, there is no excessive or graphic use of violence or gore, and everything is filtered through Brendan’s point of view, and he is (despite whatever the voices might say) kind and warm-hearted.

I recommend it to readers interested in unreliable narrators, who love mysteries (but perhaps not sticklers for details or looking for realistic and detailed investigations), and are keen on sympathetic psychological portrayals of the everyday life of a young man suffering from schizophrenia.

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review 2017-06-18 15:18
The Memory of Running, Written and Narrated By Ron McClarty
The Memory of Running - Recorded Books LLC,Ron McLarty,Ron McLarty

This was so damn good! That is all.

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review 2016-04-01 16:37
Curtis and Charlotte... Two peas in a pod
Love & Lies - Kimberla Lawson Roby

Curtis and Charlotte are made for each other.   Quick and easy read,  but a tad too predictable. 

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review 2015-03-25 23:44
Teen/YA Review: The Law of Loving Others
The Law of Loving Others - Kate Axelrod

I recently listened to the audio book The Law of Loving Others by Kate Axelrod and enjoyed this emotionally charged, realistic novel about a teen girl dealing with her mother’s diagnosis of schizophrenia.

 

Emma is in her junior year at a boarding school in Pennsylvania, heading home to the metro NY area for winter break with her boyfriend, Daniel. Emma doesn’t have a lot of close friends at school, but she and Daniel connected at the end of September and have been inseparable ever since. Emma is looking forward to a fun break split between time with her parents, time with her best friend, Annie, and trips to visit Daniel in Manhattan.

 

When Emma arrives home that day, though, something strange is going on. Her mother is acting oddly, first thinking that someone somehow snuck into her closet and swapped out all her clothes and later, that damaging rays are bombarding the house. Emma is freaked out because her mother has always been a calm, rational force in her life, always there for Emma. She tries to talk to Daniel, Annie and her father, but they just reassure her everything will be fine.

 

Within days, her mother has been taken to the hospital, and Emma learns a startling secret: that her mother has had schizophrenia since she was a young woman (normally controlled by medications) and that she is now suffering a schizophrenic break. Suddenly, Emma’s whole world feels like it is spinning out of control. Not only is her mother very sick, but this is the first she’s heard of her diagnosis – or even that there was a problem at all. Is her whole childhood a lie?

 

The rest of the novel is focused on Emma’s response to this crisis and her attempts to try to make sense of it all. She worries that Daniel won’t understand, that he won’t be there for her. She worries about how much to tell other people. And, she worries about the cute boy she meets at the mental hospital, a young man named Phil whom she vaguely knows from Annie’s brother. Phil is in the hospital visiting his twin brother, and he seems to be the only person in the world who truly understands what Emma is going through. She is also worried that she might develop schizophrenia herself, once she finds out there is a genetic component to the illness.

 

Coincidentally, this is one of several teen/YA audio books I have listened to in the last few months dealing with mental illness, and they have all been very moving and educational for me. In this case, Emma doesn’t always make good choices or select healthy coping mechanisms, but I thought it was a very realistic portrayal of how a teen girl might respond in such an unthinkable situation. The Law of Loving Others is an emotionally powerful novel about a teen trying to cope with a life-changing situation.

 

Listening Library

 

NOTE: This novel is best for older teens or young adults, as it includes plenty of drinking, drug use, sex, and adult language.

 

 Other teen/YA novels dealing with mental illness:

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

 

I Was Here by Gayle Forman

 

Falling Into Place by Amy Zhang

 

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick

Source: bookbybook.blogspot.com/2015/03/teenya-review-law-of-loving-others.html
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review SPOILER ALERT! 2014-12-29 15:09
Schizo: A Novel Review (Important Spoiler)
Schizo: A novel - Nic Sheff

Release Date: September 30th, 2014 from the Penguin Group

Summary from cover:

 

"Mile's little brother Teddy is missing. The police believe he drowned at the beach-the very same day Miles had his first schizophrenic episode. But Miles knows better-Teddy is alive. Kidnapped. There was even a witness! Fueled by guilt, Miles sets off to rescue Teddy.

 

There is so much to overcome, though. The endless pills he must take. The girl who steals his heart and plays with it. The black crows that follow him.

 

As seen through Miles's distorted perception, his world closes around him as he pushed to keep it open. What you think you know about his world is actually a blur of gray, though, and the sharp focus of reality proves startling.

 

The New York Times bestselling author of Tweak offers a fascinating and ultimately quite hopeful story of one teen's downward spiral into mental illness."

 

I have always had trouble reading novels that contain addiction, mental illness, etc. Although I have trouble reading these types of subjects, there is something inside me that always draws me to read about them in novels such as Schizo: A Novel. Let me just say, I adored this book despite everything that happened to Miles.

 

This book was a relatively fast read, and it only took me a few hours to fly through it. The structure of the book isn't really the mainstream sort of layout, but, for a lack of better words, reminds me of a poem? I can't really describe it. Like, it looks like any other book would, but how it reads in my mind has some sort of poetic vibe to it. I actually really enjoyed that aspect. I think that was why it was so easy to read this book in just a few hours. 

 

The story itself was very intense. Instead of just saying, "This is what Schizophrenia does to you and here are the symptoms", I was able to actually see the mental illness through Miles's eye emotionally. There were moments that I felt very uneasy or upset because of what Miles had to go through, and it really touched my heart that I was able to connect with a character so much to the point where I felt what he was feeling. Sheff did an amazing job making Miles a character that I was able to have this connection with despite not having Schizophrenia. 

 

There are just a few things that I would like to point out. The outcome what happens with Teddy is actually very easy to figure out from just reading the first couple of chapters where the main character talks about him. On the other hand, I was really touched on how Scheff wrote Miles's reaction to the ending because it felt real. Have you ever read something and you thought, "Well, I can't see that happening in real life, but it was a nice shot"? This novel didn't have me thinking that way at all, and I'm very thankful for that.

 

(On an important note, this serves as a trigger warning for anyone suffering from suicidal thoughts, depression, etc. There is a suicide attempt that takes place towards the end of the novel. I felt the need to point that out because I really want to look out for anyone that struggles with these thoughts as much as I can. I hope I do not offend anyone with doing this because I mean no offense whatsoever.)

 

With all the important things taken care of for this review, I really do believe that this book deserves 5/5 stars. While I have read many novels pertaining to the subject of mental illness, I believe that Sheff was able to tell Miles's story very well. I can see how much effort the author put into Schizo: A Novel and how much time he spent in making the story as believable as possible to have the readers see Schizophrenia through the eyes of another. There was a beautifully done character development as well, and overall, I just really hope this novel earns a lot of praise.

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