This is the first of hopefully 50 book reviews in 2018. Every year I set a goal on Goodreads but I have never reached it. This year I’ve scheduled my reading time ,and coupled with my reading speed improvements and reduced Internet leave me with a fighting chance of nailing my goals to the wall. I will read a book a week in 2018 with 2 weeks buffer for longer and more difficult works, because… well, who are we kidding, The Secret History is not Going to be a one week read. So **drum roll please** my first book review of 2018 is the audio book edition of The Center Cannot Hold by Elyn R. Saks.
Published in 2006 this is an older memoir of life with Schizophrenia that’s been on my TBR and sitting in my audible library for at least a year. Originally, I wanted to read it as research for a WIP, but A Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion put me off memoir for the last year. In addition, I’d purchased it on audio book before noticing my hearing loss was negatively impacting my ability to listen to audio books who’s narrators had specific voices. So, I was sitting in my micro tiny house on the first of the year having just finished The Magicians by Lev Grossman and decided to see what was downloaded to my phone. Then with a deep breath I prepared for the worst and was very pleasantly surprised.
The Genre of mental health memoir has always interested me but this memoir is unique. While there are many successfully people with depression, anorexia, bipolar disorders, and many others. Thought disorders are considered to be incurable, difficult to treat, and with extremely low social and health outcomes. The thought, even among most doctors are, sorry you will never have a career and may never be able to live without assistance. This memoir goes against that thought as we follow Elyn through her early childhood pre-symptoms to her first psychotic break in college. She takes us through the struggles, fears, emotions, and the social and psychological tools that allowed her to receive several graduate degrees and become a tenured professor and psychoanalyst. It is remarkable both in her achievements, but also the writing.
The Center Cannot Hold like all the best memoirs, in my opinion, uses strong storytelling techniques to put the reader in her mind as she goes in and out of psychosis. This is as far from a dry memoir as the genre can get. We hear her word salad (the rambled speech as she loses the barrier between reality and imagination). We also see her heroic level support system. These unflinching details show us not only why she was able to succeed, but most do not. Elyn does not shy away from her privilege and how that privilege, and luck, kept her from an unfulfilled life of permanent institutionalization or homelessness.
I wish I could force every person to read this book, it made me laugh, cry, cheer and all the emotions in between. This was an important and valuable entre to 2018.