Autobiographical first novel about manic-depression. Given that he takes as his subject here the murky corners of the mind, Zwiren is remarkably clear. The story begins with the record of an ongoing episode, in the summer of 1991, as Zwiren walks through Manhattan, deftly exposing the reader to the narrator's mercurial obsessions—with numbers, with colors, with sex, but most of all with God. He thinks he's Jesus. The opening episode ends in an emergency room. Then Zwiren flashes back to the winter of 1982, when as a scholarship student he tries to negotiate college for the first time. A simple episode in a bookstore is illustrative: Zwiren stands in line, changes his mind and gets out of line, gets in line, fears the line, fantasizes about the line, runs from the bookstore. Delusions of grandeur coalesce with rank paranoia as Zwiren takes the reader through the 1980s; sometimes he functions reasonably well, holding down jobs and even entering into brief relationships, but sooner or later reality slips away from him and he's back on the ward. Zwiren ends his account in the summer of 1990; enrolled in a support group, and taking various medications, he can mostly manage, but he has had to accept the fact that his condition is incurable. His novel, meanwhile, is repetitive, boring, heartbreaking, and quite beautifully written. That is, while the narrative tends to circle around the same points over and over again, Zwiren spins image after striking image, all the more remarkable for being his authentic view of the world rather than some literary experiment: ``The insides of my eyelids are unsafe,'' he notes in passing; in another passage, attempting to explain the allure sleep holds for him, he writes that ``the aim is to get to the threshold of sleep, a gluey sleep, a cheese melt.'' A must for anyone interested in the nature of mental illness as seen from the inside.
Read full book review >