BRAIN FEVER by Valerie Sayers


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 Sayers (The Distance Between Us, 1994, etc.) returns to limn the touchingly selfless descent into madness of a man beset by both demons and angels--in a perfectly pitched novel that moves from the author's fictional South Carolina town to New York. Back home in Due East to recover from his last crackup, 40ish Tim Rooney, a precocious genius whose adulthood has been plagued by frequent breakdowns, falls in love with still single Mary Faith Rapple, asks her to marry him, and is preparing to adopt her son, Jesse, as his own. Tim's been off his antidepressants, however, and on the Thursday before Easter, just as atheist Mary Faith agrees to marry him in church, he feels the old signs of an impending crackup. Stuffing $15 thousand into his socks, he takes off for New York, ostensibly to find his former wife, Bernadette, who left him after six days of marriage. But Tim, gentle, devout, and designated ``sacrificial son,'' a man as affected by the world's troubles as he is by the troubles of those closer to home--his sister's suicide, his mother's unhappy marriage, his father's abusiveness- -has more noble reasons for fleeing. Not wanting Mary Faith to see him go crazy, he observes that ``some animals go away to die. Some people go away to crack up.'' Meanwhile, the drive north with hitchhiking runaway bride-to-be Angela Bliss is a surrealistic epic of blackouts and bizarre encounters with a young black man, G.B., who Tim decides is his guardian angel. Once in New York, Tim's condition only worsens (he gives away his money, harangues a crowd in Washington Square Park), but Mary Faith, Father Berkley, and Jesse will come to the rescue. For Mary Faith, Tim offers comfort- -even as a recovering ``mess.'' A compelling read from a writer for whom life is not an abstract notion but a quirkily real, always exactly rendered place where ordinary people can be touched by unexpected grace as they struggle to survive.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-385-47365-4
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1995