The drama inside a mental patient’s mind fails to sustain the reader’s interest.
This short, sketchy novel is slightly longer than a novella, but not deeper. With more concision, it could have been a short story, encompassing one day in the life of a middle-aged man whose good behavior (or at least simulation of sanity) has rewarded him with an afternoon free in Manhattan from his confinement (the “solo pass” of the title). The second novel by De Feo (Calling Mr. King, 2011) finds the protagonist sharing his anticipation of and preparation for this excursion, his anxiety-inducing (though ultimately uneventful) visit to the world of the supposedly better adjusted and his return to a place where he now feels he fits. He also shares his back story in bits and pieces, letting the reader fill in the gaps and decide what to believe (since a mental patient could be the definitive embodiment of the unreliable narrator). He describes a turning point that he says “possibly marked the beginning of the end of my sanity,” yet elsewhere indicates that he felt there was something that set him apart for as long as he could remember, that his “problem went quite a bit beyond shyness,” and that his mother made much of his boyhood “inability to mingle.” His problems connecting with others cost him his job in publishing as an editor and his marriage to a woman from whom he withdrew. It also led him to an initial experience with therapy that crossed the line from unfortunate to unethical, precipitating the breakdown that resulted in his being institutionalized and providing the main thread of narrative momentum here. (Will he seek revenge on his former therapist during his afternoon off?) The brief return to the outside world lets him know where he feels most at home.
Not much in the way of revelation or climactic arc.