What is it like to work inside a state hospital or to be a patient in such a hospital? What is it like to live inside the mind of such a patient? This tragi-comedic novel takes the reader inside the asylum, inside the worlds of three central characters: a narrator who has taken refuge from his fears of the world, a psychiatrist whose own life has been damaged by his father’s depression, and a catatonic schizophrenic whose world is trapped inside a crack in the wall opposite her bed. This is the interwoven story of their lives, a story that includes love, sexuality, violence, deaths, celebrations, circuses, and surprising twists. As the plot unwinds, the reader learns a great deal about the nature of futility, frustration, and freedom.
Kenneth gives an overview of the book:
Before, when I was still out there, I talked to a couple of shrinks. I told them early memories. I looked at loony inkblots and made them into monsters and vampires: I dripped blood from vampire fangs, swam in fire, and drowned in their ocean of fiends.
I looked at pictures from long-ago America and made up stories. One, the one that disturbed me the most, was a picture of a guy in gym class. He was shinnying a rope. I couldn’t get my own gym classes out of my mind. I wanted the guy to make it to the top of the rope and to get an A, but he wouldn’t cooperate. The bastard kept falling to the floor until he hurt his damn back and had to go to the nurse. I thought it was a piss-poor story, but the shrink loved it. She called it significant. I thought she was a loser just like the guy on the rope.
Then I filled out questionnaires. It was back to school with these true false questions and a number two pencil. Yeah, I said, my table manners are as good in private as they are in public. Hell, I wouldn’t lie about something like that. My table manners suck everywhere.
The whole thing was a pain in my ass, but eventually they stopped studying me like bug crap, and then I got to talk, to really talk.
I talked about the terror I felt as a kid. I talked a lot about Stan. He was my cousin – my cousin and my closest friend. Then he pulled his motorcycle out of this scenic rest stop in California; he pulled out right in front of a concrete truck. They scraped him off the pavement and cremated what was left. Since he’d done the same thing in the same place a year earlier but had survived that time, I figured he was trying. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. If you still don’t succeed, give up; don’t make a damn fool of yourself. Stan hadn’t made a damn fool of himself, just a blot. Ink blots and blood blots, what’s the difference?
Stan was two years older than I, which made him my source of knowledge in the world of childhood. The trouble was that Stan saw the world through horror colored glasses. He passed his understanding of the world’s woes onto me – at least until he found his messy way of escaping them.
His ashes were sprinkled around his college campus, the place he had been least unhappy. I have no idea if the wind was blowing that day, but I hope some ash ended tearing an eye. Everybody deserves a few tears.