“Sometimes I wonder if magical thinking is my alcohol,” writes Blaine, a crisis interventionist in Nashville, in this self-aware, literate memoir of adventures in the para-shrink trade.
Anchorless as a teenager, but pretty sure he didn’t want to break a sweat for a living, the author took a job at a mental hospital in college, assured that he would get decent pay, free meals and plenty of time for study. What he got was an education in how terribly sad the human mind can be when in a state of illness, as with an early encounter with a “vampire girl with stars tattooed around her eyes swearing I am the holy one, the chosen son, and she wants to bleed me badly but she is so afraid that she wants to and it is very so very important that I know how much she needs to bare her teeth into the softest part of my neck and slowly grind them together until they produce the richest of blue-black juices….” The mental ward led to a suicide hotline and other avenues into that sad world, and all the while, Blaine wrestled with plenty of demons and worldly sins of his own, filtered through a particularly flinty kind of fundamentalism that fell away in sheets in the face of reality. After time in the trenches, the author reflects on the book of Job and concludes that the “whole wager thing between the devil and God is scary and just doesn’t seem fair.” Blaine’s memoir is likable and often compelling, if he sometimes strains too hard for a laugh; its chief flaw is that it is too long by nearly 100 pages, studded with false endings that suggest that he found and then abandoned points at which to break off.
Still, a glimpse into a world that few readers know firsthand—and good thing for them.