A father recounts his exhaustive search for an explanation to his 22-year-old son’s suicide.
Sanchez (Suicide Explained, 2007) quilts memoir, fiction and meditation on the neurological, biochemical and evolution of mental illness into a concise hypothesis. The resulting premise, The Master Illusionist, a Neurological Theory of Psychology, examines the brain down to its molecular roots and weighs potential medications and therapies for mental illness. The technical discussion draws from a bevy of diverse sources, including the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the writings of astronomer Carl Sagan, beloved popular physicist Richard Feynman and numerous academic papers on neurochemistry and pharmacology. Sanchez, admitting that little is known about the brain or suicide, includes a discussion on energy psychology, which applies the eastern concepts of chakras to the study of mental disorders. Theoretical discussions alternate with intimate metaphysical passages that dismiss no coincidence or connection, allowing for transference of souls and reincarnation. Most vivid is Sanchez’s eyewitness account of the death of his son’s namesake, his brother-in-law, in a plane crash just weeks before the birth of his son. Other experiences inspire detailed, Borgesian fictions, elaborate parallels across history to suicides similar to his son’s and explore suicidal minds on the verge of their ultimate act. Another set of fictions, narrated in part by Sacagawea, follows the mental illness of Captain Meriwether Lewis of the Lewis and Clark expedition. The text is sometimes meandering and often irrelevant, but Sanchez always returns to his theme. Mental illnesses like his son’s depression erode the sense of self and the â€œsurvival impulses of the organism,” leaving the victim in an agony so extreme that death becomes the only escape. Sanchez stresses the need for a combined treatment of therapy and chemicals, and presses those who are surrounded by mental illness to remain vigilant against this often invisible threat.
This difficult circumnavigation of a dark topic will help soothe survivors, as well as raise awareness about suicide.