MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block. A new novel leads readers on a journey through the life of a man struggling with bipolar disorder. The book is from writer Juliann Garey. Our reviewer, Ellen Forney, knows all too well the peaks and valleys of bipolar disorder, and she says the book rings true.
ELLEN FORNEY: I tend to get annoyed by books and movies with mentally ill characters. If the story doesn't make sense, well, they're crazy. Of course, it doesn't make sense. So I was skeptical when I picked up the novel "Too Bright to Hear, Too Loud to See" by Juliann Garey. It's about a Hollywood studio executive with untreated bipolar disorder. He leaves his wife and child, hits the road and goes on an international adventure.
I braced for another kooky, manic cliche. But this book's author isn't some outsider looking in. She's also bipolar. The character she creates is complex. And she really gets us inside his head. Each chapter starts with Greyson Todd's thoughts in the hospital, right before he goes under anesthesia. He's getting ECT, electroconvulsive therapy.
You'd think he would be a tough character to love. He abandons his family. He's unpredictable. But we get him. He's not a villain. He's trying to survive. The author's descriptions of mania and depression felt true to me, to my own bipolar disorder. In mania, the sensations are heightened. They feel like superpowers. Life is all typhoons and hurricanes. In depression, life is like drowning. Greyson describes how even breathing is exhausting. He says: I am no more up to the constant inhaling and exhaling than I am to running a marathon.
At one point, Greyson rides on the back of a stranger's motorcycle. As I read that part, I thought to myself, you know, that's what reading this whole book is like. Here's what he thinks to himself: No one here wears helmets. And on several sharp turns, I have to squeeze my thighs together to keep from becoming road kill. The experience is everything I had hoped for, he says. I am lost now and there is no going back.
BLOCK: The book is "Too Bright to Hear, Too Loud to See" by Juliann Garey. Our reviewer, Ellen Forney, is the author of the graphic memoir "Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me."