A young man’s traumatic failures in love drive him to madness in this debut book.
As a child, Tom was a favorite target of bullies—fearful and submissive, as well as set apart by social awkwardness. It didn’t help that his parents had a wildly tumultuous relationship that ended in an acrimonious divorce, or that his older sister dismissively rejected him in favor of her cooler friends. And like any adolescent boy, Tom is drawn romantically to his co-ed contemporaries but also chronically spurned, leaving him “maladjusted, alienated, lonely, depressed, and suffering from low self-esteem.” He attends the University of Maine and falls in love with Lisa, but she doesn’t return his affections, and clearly only keeps him around to cruelly bolster her own sense of self-worth. Now dejected from a lack of social success, he opts to spend the summer with his aunt and uncle in Arizona; there he meets another girl—Mary—and falls madly in love with her. When she too fails to reciprocate his affections, he starts to lose his grip on reality, battered from yet another bout of rejection, and eventually seeks the counsel of anyone willing to help—his professor, a therapist, and a hypnotist are among those to whom he turns. Tom overdoses on anti-psychotic medication and lands in a psychiatric institution, grappling with his festering obsession over a girl he hardly dated and barely knew. Doran intends this to be a thinly fictionalized memoir written in the third person of his own scramble for mental peace. The descriptions of Tom’s afflictions are insistently clinical—the book begins and ends with notes from the author’s former therapist, explaining, in the driest academic language imaginable, the psychological import of the story. Doran also repeatedly describes Tom’s plight in diagnostic language, apparently anxious that readers might draw their own conclusions. In addition, the prose at times hyperventilates. For example, Tom anguishes over a girl’s attention: “She is gazing at me. The angel is gazing at me. She’s gazing. Gazing! She’s gazing at me. What does it mean? What could it mean? Do I dare hope?” Of course, Tom’s (and the author’s) victory over mental illness remains unfathomably inspiring, but there’s more to readable fiction than inspiration.
A confused and overstuffed tale of psychological illness and recovery.