D.D Murphry, Secret Policeman by Alan M. Clark and Elizabeth Massie

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: D.D. Murphry, Secret Policeman

Authors: Alan M. Clark and Elizabeth Massie

Type of Book: Fiction, themed short story collection

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Because the whole book is based on the delusions of a seriously mentally ill man.

Availability: Published in 2009 by Raw Dog Screaming Press, you can get a copy here:

Comments: I’ve been thinking about the mentally ill a lot lately. I technically have mental illness, but given my recent methods of fighting back as well as the relative mildness of my condition, I am getting very close to being The Sanest Person You Know. Earlier this year I read Pete Earley’s book, Crazy: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness, a sickening and sobering look at the mental healthcare system nationwide, but especially in Florida. When the face-eating cannibal case hit the headlines, my first thought was, “I bet he was a schizophrenic.” News said it was bath salts but the autopsy said all the face-eater had in his system was marijuana. I looked it up and sure enough – Rudy Eugene had a rich history of untreated schizophrenia, resulting in many assaults and several arrests.

It is with Earley’s book and the recent graphic example of the mental health care system failure in Florida in mind that I am writing this discussion. There is a lot that is funny in this book. Clark and Massie wove a mentally-ill conspiracy so well that it is pure genius – at times I wondered, briefly, if the conspiracy was real, that perhaps Murphry was ill but was also being used as a pawn by a malevolent force. So strongly does Murphry believe the truth of the misfires in his brain that the reader, even with strong clues that this is indeed a mentally disturbed man acting out what is happening in his mind, cannot help but think there is some truth to such energetic and labyrinthine delusions.

It is impossible to discuss the structure and plot of this book in much depth because to do so would utterly spoil the book. So I plan to give a bare-bones plot synopsis and then discuss the parts of chapter one that resonate with me. D.D. Murphry is a mentally ill, mostly homeless man. When a social worker helped him get on disability or some sort of Social Security, he interpreted that as having been hired by the “True Government” to spy on and take action against the “False Government.” His interpretations of various situations, as filtered through his damaged mind, range from the hilarious to the deeply disturbing, often depending on how it is he decides to react. He believes a librarian named Kate, who fears and loathes him, is his secret bride, given to him by the “True Government.” He believes her nasty reaction to him is a facade assumed to throw off others and he longs for the day he can finally consummate their marriage. Kate inadvertently provided a large source of fuel for Murphry’s delusions, as she taught him to use a computer and access e-mail. Murphry sees spam as secret communications from the True Government and Clark and Massie really shine when they show how he manages to find real life corollaries in the simplest things that match the messages he thinks he received in the e-mails. Murphry careens from humorous misinterpretation to grave acts of utter mayhem as he tries to make the world a better place for the True Government and foil the actions of the False Government.

Demons in the Age of Light by Whitney Robinson

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: Demons in the Age of Light: A Memoir of Psychosis and Recovery

Author: Whitney Robinson

Type of Book: Non-fiction, memoir, mental illness, psychiatry

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: In a way it is not odd because psychiatric memoirs are thick on the ground these days. But in a sense this book is very odd because being given an invitation to look into the mind of a person actively suffering from schizophrenia is in and of itself a strange, unsettling experience.

Availability: Published by Process Media in 2011, you can get a copy here:

Comments: Just warning you now, dear reader, that this discussion is going to be one of my trademarked Very Long Discussions with Lots of Quotes from the Book, coupled with a very personal reactions to the text. For those who find a 8000 word or so discussion excessive, here is the tl;dr version: This is a very good book written by a very good writer and you should buy it and read it.

I read a lot of mental health and mental illness memoirs and this was the first one I ever considered odd enough to discuss here. I very nearly missed reading it. I had run into a spate of memoirs that left me cold, and had the online acquaintance who recommended the book to me and then sent me a copy offered it two weeks earlier than she did, I would have declined. But just before she discussed the book with me, I had finished a very good, very honest mental illness memoir, Stacy Pershall’s Loud in the House of Myself: Memoir of a Strange Girl. The offer to read the book came at the right time after the right book.

It would have been a shame to have turned down this book because of the often sorry shelf-company it is forced to share. And I don’t mean to demean the genre because people gets all kinds of help in all kinds of ways that I may find less than helpful. It’s just that lately some of the books I have read wore very thin for me. It seemed like the authors, mostly women, had romanticized their illness. To paraphrase Elizabeth Wurtzel, patron saint of fucked up women of a certain age, they had fallen in love with their illness. The devastation the disease wreaked on their bodies, their education, their relationships – it all was a back story to a fabulous disaster narrative.

Also there is a current theme in mental health studies that posits that mental illnesses, or neurodiversity, are a form of genetic selection for arts, letters and speculative science and therefore celebrate the conditions. I can see the logic. Not only is there a long record of acclaimed people who created great art and propelled science, but as a person with mental illness, I like to think that there is a purpose behind my at times terrible brain chemistry. But I am made uneasy by some of it because even though Van Gogh left behind astonishing paintings and Virginia Woolf left behind masterful prose and John Nash was a great boon to speculative physics, would any of us really want to live their lives? It’s all well and good to see the up side of having appalling brain chemistry, but I often fear that people who are suffering will read such examinations and decide that their affliction should not be treated, should not be seen as a disease that needs to be addressed in order for them to live the best life they can live. As much as I adore Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poetry, and I have no real way of knowing how much his deep depression truly affected his writing, thinking about the sorry end of his life makes it just a little harder to enjoy the beauty and truth of his words. Art that comes from a truly suffering person will always have a pall cast over it.

This book does not engage in the sort of celebration and art uber alles justifications for mental illness that I have encountered as of late. Whitney Robinson’s memoir gets everything right. She shows the wreckage. She shows how mental illness swooped down into her life and changed everything. A natural writer with a near-intimidating intelligence, Robinson tells the story of her illness, the demon that came into her brain, and how she came back out the other side. It is an erudite, honest, and at times darkly humorous look at what it feels like to have your brain behave in ways you have no control over. Schizophrenia is one of the hardest mental illnesses for people to truly understand, and Robinson writes a fascinating book that is never once a freak show. It is never an attempt to glorify conditions that can ransack a person’s life. This book is never a voyeuristic peephole into the at times salacious subject matter of mental illness.

It is a rare invitation to understand.