Hoover describes his experiences without the trappings of hallucination: no soft, fuzzy imagery or language evoking fugue states, but rather a knack for clever worldbuilding and the relentless coloring of dream logic. In this curious blend of medical memoir and magical realism, Hoover lays down a variety of memories and hallucinations. He imagines himself not in Charlotte, N.C. where he lives and is from, but in Manhattan, escaping there after being reconstructed with chicken legs and half a face at a rogue Confederate hospital full of body parts on conveyor belts. He abandons his wife on a South Dakota tarmac and greets the birth of a child who’s actually a tiny bean. Later, he sees his wife’s death written on the monitor at the foot of his bed and, in South Dakota, escapes attacks by Dog People and Native American boys with broken glass. As Hoover gradually becomes more lucid, his memories turn toward petty frustrations with hospital staff, medications and his body’s own limitations; although the same sense of humor runs through the writing, these passages feel more interested in amusing readers than the exuberantly creative earlier chapters. Chapter headers reference information about sepsis—“Supplemental oxygen should be supplied to all patients with sepsis and oxygenation should be monitored continuously with pulse oximetry”—and provide other keys to his personality through lyrics from U2, the Beatles and others. Aside from an assortment of crude black-and-white illustrations, Hoover offers refreshingly pure, imaginative storytelling, free of the musings on mortality, broader criticisms of the medical system or feel-good survivor’s advice often found in patient memoirs. Yet at more than 500 pages, the book is an exercise in completist documentation; a more tightly edited version could still offer readers a strong sense of his character as he traverses the minefields of his internal universe.
A fascinating tour through the escapist fantasies of an everyday brain in an exceptional crisis.