Crazy Literature–or Literally Crazy?

I found this ABE theme unusual and interesting. I never gave much thought to how mental illness is depicted in print. I’ve read  books that have various forms of mental illness as subplots, or even the main story line. Until I really thought about it, I suppose I didn’t realize just how many. Naturally The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath comes to mine, as does She’s Come Undone, a more recent novel–and to be clear-I read it before Oprah found and promoted it, lol.

It’s very difficult, I believe, for a writer to catch the true voice of depression, or bi-polar etc., if having not experienced symptoms. And yet it’s been done, and done well. It’s also been bungled, with trite, sallow depictions that doesn’t help forward thinking toward the treatment of such afflictions.

As an odd coincidence, my husband and I went on a picnic to a park outside of Philly last weekend, and it was smack up against a huge mental illness facility–the grounds for this place were expansive, and the institution must have employed most of the town when it was jammed packed full of loonies. I use that term because that’s how they would have been thought of back when the first patients arrived–late Victorian era, if going by the date on one of the condemned buildings is an indication. And that was he most odd part of the facility–the condemned rotting buildings interspersed between old but habitable ones. We took copious photos and puzzled over where the inmates were housed today, because it was obviously still a running sanitarium. We finally came across one building with barbed wire strung above very high fences, and concluded dangerous insanity reigned within. But it was all speculation. I’m sure there is no mystery involved with the place once facts were presented, but the creepy sight of upended beds and intact toilets in a disintegrating building makes for the nucleus of a story, don’t you think?

In the crime fiction field which I am more familiar, this genre is not without several individual titles and series that deal with mental illness. An excellent couple of books about Bo Bradley, a child abuse investigator,  with bipolar who hates being on meds is authored by Abigail Padgett. Authenticity rings true. Another series, The Man With Maybe a Half Dozen Faces by Ray Vukcevich, features a detective that has, you guessed it, multiple personalities. I’ve not read this one, but have it some where–the premise is intriguing. Moody Gets the Blues about a guy who gets his PI license while in a mental hospital after talking with Humphry Bogart via hallucination, is another title I know of. This I haven’t read. It has mixed reviews.

Of course there are a billion mentally ill serial killers in crime fiction, and suave nutcases poisoning the upper classes in locked rooms, but the newer angle of a detective plauged with demons is fascinating.

George Dawes Green wrote a splendid novel, The Caveman’s Valentine, which was eventually made into a film about a homeless mentally ill man living in a park in NYC. I highly recommend this title. Has anyone else read well depicted novels of mental illness and if so–tell us about them!

2 thoughts on “Crazy Literature–or Literally Crazy?”

  1. Excellent post! Those interested in this topic will enjoy Otto Wahl’s MEDIA MADNESS: PUBLIC IMAGES OF MENTAL ILLNESS. Curiously, the stigmatizing “psycho killer” images in crime fiction diminished for a time but now seem to be back. At the same time, women’s magazines like GOOD HOUSEKEEPING routinely address the most sensitive psychiatric issues with openness and compassion. The two threads – direct, well-documented periodical journalism and distorted, sensationalist fiction – seem to exist simultaneously, one educating and the other entertaining. Thanks for pointing out that the truth about psychiatric illness is what’s REALLY entertaining!

  2. Abigail! What a thrill to have you stop by! I met you and probably shipped books to you as well for your signature when I worked as a mystery bookstore manager in NYC back in the mid to late 90s. I LOVED your Bo Bradley books. Will there be more published at any time in the future? I know you also pen another series.

    I’ve no idea how you found this blog, but it makes me very happy you did. I have inscribed copies of your books and hold them dear.
    Perhaps some time I could ask you some questions regarding your writing and post it here? I’ve some other authors who have agreed, I’ve just not thought up questions yet! LOL. Which is kind of pathetic, considering I had my own mystery newsletter and then worked for A&E doing nothing but asking author questions!

    I hope you visit again!

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