Review of Dancing With Disorder by Andrew Lawes

When I picked up this book, I knew it would map out the plight of the mentally ill in some form or another, but I did not expect the intimate perspective, which delves deep into psychology and the emotions incumbent in major life changes, without losing the focus on character and dialogue.

The way it explores the interiority of fear and societal pressures with descriptive scenes and quick pacing made for an intriguing and mature look at the topic. The interior monologue is balanced with straightforward narration, which depicts a rich variety of experiences, along with an open-hearted attitude and graciousness. It communicates a deep understanding of troubled individuals who suffer from the challenges of mental disorders. Add to this figurative language and colorful interactions, and you have a very readable product. While the flights of fancy can get rather grandiose, the narrator is not without charm. It offers a valuable glimpse into institutions and the minds of those unfortunates who find themselves therein. Courageous, wise, humorous, and thought-provoking by turns. We’re introduced to quirky characters and shown a variety of believable attitudes. It reminded me in places of David Foster Wallace’s kooky institutionalized characters, though the comparison is one of atmosphere and tone. At bottom, the author managed to convey the originality of these people; no matter what situations they were in, they remain themselves. I could only conclude that it was written by someone who was at one point close to his subject matter.

The realistic, idiosyncratic dialogue contains local flavor and provides an immersive quality to the streamlined prose. Amid all of these techniques, the author manages to tell a good story, which is really one composed of many small interlocking pieces, as in real life. It goes into how to navigate relationships and stressors, pursue recovery and harmony with one’s fellow sufferers, channeling nostalgia to inject life’s rough patches with a hypo of hope. An easy-to-read, surprising, and subtly moving chronicle, that charts social dynamics and private growth through characters you can grow to love.

Review of Mimi by Lucy Ellmann

Mimi is not Lucy Ellmann’s best work, but this book was still intelligent and more entertaining than 99% of inanimate objects on this planet.

Ellmann’s acerbic brand of feminism doesn’t really work with the goofy male narrator, as other reviewers have pointed out. You most certainly won’t like this plastic surgeon guy, but again, entertainment is the name of the game. If I can be intellectually engaged with and laugh at a novel, it has done its job. I don’t ask it to be balanced, tonally perfect, or unbiased in order to earn 4 stars. Lucy Ellmann knows how to write well. Every book of hers I’ve tried so far has been good to stellar.

This, like her upcoming Ducks, Newburyport, will likely polarize readers. I would not call this vintage Ellmann, but it is welcome padding to her modest body of work. Calling her work modest is completely inaccurate though. There always seems to be one person, male or female, at a party or event – think of your wedding – who just cannot behave themselves. Ellmann relishes these moments of misbehavior and delves deeply into the troubling psyches of her characters at the same time. The plots are typically simple, where they exist at all, because her focus is internal monologue, which she could write a whole book using – oh wait, DUCKS, NEWBURYPORT!

Don’t begin your foray into her oeuvre with Mimi. Likely, you’ll laugh, but the literary experiments toward the back of the book (extra padding on an already padded book) will just confuse you. Her use of musical sheets and pictures doesn’t get on my nerves. It’s a little distracting but I’m there for the writing. I’m not averse to long lists and tables, if used in service of character, though I wish the overt comments were kept to the sidelines, or used more subtly.

Subtlety is used more effectively in her other works, and it is a poignant spice missing from this particular concoction.

Interview in The Collidescope

Thank you to The Collidescope for the interview. Check out this fascinating literary publication for informative and brilliant content.

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