“I am a bipolar gorilla”: a tale of madness, self-destruction, and the stalwart presence of a family that, while not exactly the Waltons, is always there.
You’ve got to like a book that opens with a Granny who prays the rosary, digs the Stones, and calls the police “pigs,” as in, “Zachariah, look out the window. Is that the pigs?” If Granny is a person not to mess with, Grandpa is a whiskey-soaked philosopher, and Bird—well, that would be Zachariah’s mom, who is the toughest and most reliable of them all, a rock on whom whole cities could be founded. McDermott’s memoir is decidedly offbeat, unfolding like a country song. There’s the law, some good jokes, substance abuse, and love lost and found, but there’s also a keenly felt sense of justice for the people who can’t catch a break in this world, “the dregs, the castoffs, the addicts, and the Uncle Eddies,” the latter a relative who pioneered the author’s path into the mental health system all those years ago. It’s a system that McDermott describes from two vantage points, one as a public defender who represents emotionally disturbed persons and one as someone who has spent time on the other side of the door, committed for clearly valid reasons even as we come to understand that mental health is not likely to be encountered in mental health institutions—or, as he writes, “regaining sanity at a mental hospital is like treating a migraine at a rave.” That makes sense, for who could be healed in a place, as he writes, where the air is a fetid assault, inasmuch as “90 percent of our prescribed medications came with rancid and constant dog farts as side effects”?
If the Joads were tanked up on Bud Light and Haldol and Steinbeck were under Hunter S. Thompson’s influence, this might be the result—rueful, funny, and utterly authentic.