Once again, I was steered toward this week's choice by Goodreads and their Pinterest account. Too Bright to Hear Too Loud to See is Juliann Garey's first novel, and it follows the adventure, or rather the misadventures, of a man who decides to sort of submit to the bipolar disorder he has been attempting to manage. After reading the synopsis on the book jacket, I imagined I was going to be in for a challenge. I imagined correctly.
The Situation: Greyson Todd is an incredibly successful Hollywood studio executive with a beautiful wife and daughter. He has managed to overcome a difficult childhood that included his incredibly loyal and devoted mother, his younger sister and two younger brothers, and his less than stellar father. Greyson believes his father's inability to hold a job, his abusive tendencies towards both his wife and his children, and his penchant for spending every bit of the little money the family has, and then some they don't, is what drove his mother to an early grave. His main goal in life is to not become like his old man, and of the surface it would appear he has succeeded. So why is Greyson suddenly having fits of extreme paranoia? Why does he keep disappearing? Why does he suspect his loving wife is trying to kill him? And possibly most important of all, why is he angry at her for hiding all of the sharp objects in the house, and why does he insist on searching for them?
The Problem: Greyson is bipolar. And after 20 years of hiding it and keeping a tight lid on his illness in order to keep his colleagues in Hollywood from finding out, Greyson gives in completely, leaving his wife and daughter behind in an attempt to spare them from anymore pain. His illness takes him around the world, literally. After ten years of wandering, Greyson finds himself remembering his adventures and misadventures in Rome, Israel, Santiago, Thailand, Uganda, and New York City, in between electroshock treatments in a psychiatric ward. And very few of the memories are happy ones. For the most part, they are despicable, violent, ugly, angry, and full of self-pity and self-loathing. Greyson has already lost everything, including his family. And if this last attempt at regaining some sanity goes wrong, he may lose the memories as well.
Genre, Themes, History: I'd be willing to call this a psychological thriller. It is a wild ride that takes the reader all over then world with one crazy adventure after another. Garey let's you crawl into the mind of someone whose daily reality is an intense struggle. Some days are much better than others, but Greyson knows that his good days have an expiration date, and it is only a matter of time before he starts acting irrationally again and harming himself as well as those he loves. And even though most of Greyson's family life, both past and present, is extremely fractured, family is an important theme as Garey shows what it is like for those closest to someone who suffers from bipolar disorder. The novel is almost like a case study told from the patient's point of view. Which brings in the issue of the unreliable narrator...as if him being unlikeable didn't make things hard enough. If Greyson's memory is spotty, by his own admission, then how can the reader trust what he is saying? Also, it would make sense that this would be the subject of Garey's first novel as she is the editor of Voices of Bipolar Disorder: The Healing Companion.
My Verdict: I mentioned that this book was challenging, and here is why: without knowing he is bipolar, Greyson Todd is the world's biggest jerk. The stuff he does and says are just awful. And because of his money and reputation, he is able to get away with a great deal of it. But even with power and influence on his side, Greyson's illness still leaves him miserable and near death. Garey presents that all important question: what is the role of family and friends when a person's illness causes them to act in a matter that is extremely alienating? By the end, despite everything Greyson had and hadn't done, I was rooting for him and hoping he would be able to pull his life back together. There were some parts where his adventures seemed a little far-fetched, even for a man with seemingly unlimited amounts of money and charm. There is only so much I am willing to believe this guy can get away with before he kills himself or someone else. Even so, while 90% of the book was a struggle to get through, I can say that I did enjoy it and highly recommend it. But fair warning, there is some difficult stuff in here. And if you have any actual experience dealing with mental illness, that may make reading this book even more difficult.
Favorite Moment: When Greyson tells the story of his first date with his wife, Ellen. They were supposed to have gone out on an actual date, but because of something his father does, Greyson has to cancel in order to help the family. Much to his surprise, Ellen isn't upset, but instead she shows up at his house and helps him out.
Favorite Character: Greyson's wife Ellen is incredibly supportive and patient. She manages to stand by him through some seriously scary times, and it is pretty impressive how she is able to deal with his wild mood swings and erratic behavior.
Recommended Reading: I honestly cannot come up with a good recommendation for this one. At least not one that is fiction. One book that I recently read, Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan, kept coming to mind. While Cahalan was not bipolar or manic depressive, doctors had to search frantically for an explanation for her increasingly erratic and scary behavior. It is a true account of a descent into madness that some feared she would never come out of. I think if you enjoy Garey's novel, Cahalan's story would be a great follow-up.