My issue with memoirs is this: they are boring. They are not boring because they are boring, but because people who are typically writing memoirs are not writers and all of the editing in the world could not make them unboring.
Not My Fluorescent God. Guppy’s story and the way it is written could not be boring if it tried really hard.
When I was introduced to this memoir through Guppy’s absolutely stunning book trailer (it gave me chills), I basically started reading it the same day. It’s one of those books where you read the first couple pages and wonder what the fuck you just got yourself into, and decide you can’t stop reading until you find out what happens next, and so forth.
“Count backwards from 100 by sevens,” he says.
If he is Satan, then that proves this is Hell.
You know when you go take your kids to a Disney movie and the entire adult audience is laughing at the dirty jokes, because they are subtle enough that the kids won’t get it? This book is kind of the opposite, though very similar in subtlety. Our narrator has an innocence about him – as all the non-violent mentally ill usually do – that produces this essence of mind that is the likeness of that of a child that doesn’t understand much about the world. Throughout Guppy’s journey into the land of the insane, though, he maintains his sense of humor and manages to hold on to this dark, satiric humor he must utilize in real life, without even knowing he’s doing it. Jokingly, I told my boyfriend once that I was funnier when in psychosis and that I was going to start a show called Schizophrenia: The Stand Up Project. He gave me this weird look until we sat there for a bit and talked, and he was laughing, and he said, “you are funny today.” I wasn’t fucking around, and neither was Joe Guppy.
He leads us back to the ward. We leave behind the gum crisis and my chance to run off.
It’s funny to the reader, that, throughout the story, Guppy insists that he has lost his sense of humor and jokes are lost on him whilst he is being funny himself, and that makes the reader laugh, but also kind of sad, too. To someone who has experienced psychosis and continues to do so, though, the descriptive lyrics with which he explains his mental state are so accurate it hurts. He brings this ability to show how any little event that even has the potential to cause stress or anxiety can completely send a mentally ill person over the edge, and the contrast of normal and insanity against this gray-colored mindset is stunning.
I see Grace and mumble to her that I can’t stand the smoking. She gives me a placid look. The unfairness of the smoke is too much. It’s time to leave and kill myself. But escape doesn’t seem possible. This deflates the hope created by my imagined death.
Through his interactions with all of the people in his world, including other patients, Guppy is able to look outside the bubble of his own experience and show the mental health industry that is our current reality.
“I’ve been depressed for years,” she says. “Jimmy and I know each other from the hospital circuit.”
Even though I know that this is just how it is – people walking among us who are in and out of institutions for their entire lives, including me – the author’s words hit us hard in the chest. Do people with medical illnesses ‘know each other’ from the ‘hospital circuit’? Guppy writes a memoir that shows and does not tell and he does it intelligently, which, in my reading career, is the first time that has ever happened. Beyond the embarrassing and unacceptable state of our mental institutions, with realistic detail Guppy goes into a number of things via his driven prose, including paranoia and the lack of effective medication that is available.
Dr. Hardaway keeps fiddling with my meds. He says different people respond differently to different medications and eventually he’ll get the right mix. I imagine he sees my brain as a beaker, into which he pours different colored bubbling liquids. I can’t believe that peace or happiness comes through chemicals, and I wonder why no one seems to have found the right mix for the chronics. I worry I’ll end up like one of them forever.
Not to mention the chilling journal entries that offer the reader the opportunity to watch an individual unravel into psychosis from the outside. The whole thing is astonishing and enlightening, dark and satirical. It’s one of those memoirs that would be just as heartbreaking and powerful if it were fiction because it is written so well. Guppy is an inspirational human being, to be sure.
My new favorite literary piece about mental illness. Not that there are very many of them, but we’re getting there. Bravo.
***I was provided with a complimentary copy of this e-book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Allison Burke, Editor and Staff Writer
Allie Burke is the no-makeup-wearing, simultaneous-YA-and-Vonnegut-loving, Nike-obsessed bestselling author and acclaimed Selfie Queen of the Universe. She’s written in various forms for an indeterminable amount of time, climbing up the Amazon charts and ultimate geekery from small time book-reviewer to literary editor, until the authory culture pushed her off the bridge of artistic literature.
She now writes shit she’ll probably never publish, never shuts up about John Green, only reads books she wasn’t asked to review, and drinks coffee at all the wrong times.
She is the creator of Organic Coffee, haphazardly.