Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Too Bright to Hear Too Loud to See

Too Bright to Hear Too Loud to See by Juliann Garey
Soho Press, 12/26/2012
Hardcover, 289 pages
ISBN-13: 9781616951290

A studio executive leaves his family and travels the world giving free reign to the bipolar disorder he's been forced to hide for 20 years.
In her tour-de-force first novel, Juliann Garey takes us inside the restless mind, ravaged heart, and anguished soul of Greyson Todd, a successful Hollywood studio executive who leaves his wife and young daughter and for a decade travels the world giving free reign to the bipolar disorder he's been forced to keep hidden for almost 20 years. The novel intricately weaves together three timelines: the story of Greyson's travels (Rome, Israel, Santiago, Thailand, Uganda); the progressive unraveling of his own father seen through Greyson's eyes as a child; and the intimacies and estrangements of his marriage. The entire narrative unfolds in the time it takes him to undergo twelve 30-second electroshock treatments in a New York psychiatric ward. This is a literary page-turner of the first order, and a brilliant inside look at mental illness.

My Thoughts:
Too Bright to Hear Too Loud to See by Juliann Garey chronicles the tortured life of Greyson Todd. Greyson suffers from bi-polar disorder, a fact he's tried to keep concealed and resisted for years. In the opening he is successful Hollywood studio executive who leaves his wife and daughter. He subsequently spends a decade traveling around the world, his mental health slowly disassembling as his illness progresses unchecked until he ends up in a New York psychiatric hospital. 
During the time he is receiving twelve thirty second electroshock treatments, three intertwined timelines in Grayson's life are expertly presented in short chapters. The three timelines include: Greyson as a child/young man dealing with his own father's struggles with mental health; Greyson as a married man and father grappling with his own depression; and the decade of Grayson traveling, when his unrestrained bipolar disorder races toward a manic state.
As Grayson recounts:
"That was fun. While it lasted. But it didn’t. It never does. And now, it—all of it—is too much. Too hot. Too bright to hear. Too loud to see. And with no way to turn it down, there is no sleep, nothing to stop the onslaught. (Location 1960-1963)"
For a debut novel, Too Bright to Hear Too Loud to See is certainly a spectacular achievement for author Juliann Garey. It is a real page turner. While reading you know where Grayson is heading, but have no idea of all the agony and turmoil he goes through before he gets to the psych unit. At times it can be a gritty novel. Not only is Grayson full of acrimony, sarcasm, and rage at times, he is also drawn in a self destructive state to lurid places and risky behavior. At the same time, on some level, Grayson knows where he is heading and he is terrified of his fate; juxtaposed to this is Grayson's occasionally witty, acute, and insightful recognition of his actions and situation.
Combining skillful writing and great pacing, Garey made Grayson into a real, compelling character. Even if you are disgusted by his actions, you have sympathy for him because you know he needs help. You know he knows he needs help, on some level, even while he makes a self-destructive run away from getting help or admitting he needs help. Too Bright to Hear Too Loud to See is certainly a masterful accomplishment.
Very Highly Recommended - not an easy read but a stunning debut novel
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Random House's Soho Press and Netgalley for review purposes.

excerpts from my Kindle:
Willing suspension of disbelief. That’s what they call it in the movies. Like the story about how each procedure will be over in less than a minute. And how you won’t feel a thing. How you may be foggy for a while, but in the end you’ll be better. You’ll be whole. I want that. So I suspend my disbelief. I let them hook me up. Willingly. And then they give me something. And when I close my eyes, I am neither asleep nor awake but rather suspended in the dark, somewhere between the two. Willingly suspended. Watching. I feel my eyelids being taped shut and hear the gentle hum of the electricity. I have no choice but to give in and let the story tell itself. Location 10-15
All day, every day, there is so much noise. Everything seems so much louder than it used to. I just want to be left alone. My wife is not quiet about what she considers to be my increasingly reclusive tendencies. She wants more. I don’t have what she wants. So I’ve paid off the mortgage, signed a quitclaim deed putting the house and a trust in her name, and I’ve packed a small suitcase and locked it in the trunk of my Mercedes. Nameless, easily accessible offshore accounts have been established. Location 43-46
Some people shouldn’t be parents. I simply found out after the fact. I cannot tolerate the myriad responsibilities anymore—birthday parties and teacher conferences, soccer games and ballet recitals. And just as intolerable is the suffocating guilt of not attending those things. I cannot stand to disappoint. So better gone than absent. It is the only way to love her. Location 61-63 |
After lying to my mother, spending her money, or cheating on her, my father liked to play the good husband. He’d fix leaky faucets, give my little brother a bath, take a stab at the laundry. That night he cooked dinner. Location 180-181

I hated him enough to tell, but I loved her more—enough not to. Besides, I thought, I could hold this over his head for years. It was my first lesson in strategic negotiation. Location 223-224
I wonder if I am the only ECT patient who’s noticed. I’ve come to realize lately that if you’re really crazy most people assume you’re also really stupid. They either speak to you in a quiet, slow voice as if speaking to a retarded child or enunciate and yell as if addressing a hard-of-hearing, demented senior. Either way, I resent it. Location 976-978

So maybe it would be justice, I think, the panic slowly rising as I go under. Maybe this is karma coming around to vindicate the victims of my bad behavior. Karma coming around to bite me in the ass. Location 1590-1591

“We are all of us—well, with the exception of people who have just fallen in love and those lucky demented few who see life’s glass as three quarters full—we are just getting by. We do our jobs and love our families and take pride in our kids’ accomplishments. Some people believe in God because that makes watching the nightly news a little easier. But our ups and downs stay within a manageable range. That’s what I want for you.” Location 3580-3583

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