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Don't Look Down Paperback – August 17, 2009
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Consider Frank who has just served a ten-year sentence in prison for manslaughter. When his prison term is up, instead of being free, he is sent to a psychiatric hospital and placed in a room where there are three other men. As one of the men questions, why should these men feel safe living in such small quarters with someone who has murdered someone.
Henry was my favorite character. Most of the time he was clear in his head and probably would have been more often if he was not housed in the facility where his lawyer and doctors were trying to determine if he was able to stand trial. He had murdered his long-time companion. At her request. Oh, she didn't specifically say that he should buy a gun and shoot her in the temple, but she had begged him to not have her lie and suffer until her death, like his first wife had done. Henry did the best he could to honor his wife's dying request.
Joseph was delusional about his wife--claiming that she was always having affairs and becoming severely depressed because of those delusions. David was schizophrenic and had been accused of killing Sally, a street woman with whom he had started to live, but David's response was only that he had killed the thing that Sally had become...
"...it occurred to Henry that perhaps he was already dead. This could be it, he thought, a Spartan waiting room in Limbo, his keepers trading messages about him, deciding to pass him on or not." (p. 109)
Daily life, the hours spent sitting in silence, waiting for medication or a meal, watching others, watching you continued. Until Frank attacked Joseph one night...
Don't Look Down is not an easy book to read. Perhaps it will seem too real to you, but, then, perhaps you need to read it for one reason or another. Certainly professionals and students of psychiatry would find it a must-read. Certainly anybody who has friends or family in psychiatric hospitals should...
What any reader will find in the book, though, is that these men are just people, just like us, if our circumstances had been different, or were changed in the future... Excellent writing style for describing the personalities of these characters; you will come to care for each of them, even Frank. David Laing Dawson lays the truth on the line; will you be one that picks it up?
G. A. Bixler
The truth of what the characters have done, and why, grows out of memories and interviews that slowly build to a whole. Henry's fractured memories start to return while Frank falls apart. David takes all the logical steps; it's just his logic that's wrong and not his self. And Joseph learns to separate truth from lies but doesn't like the result.
It all sounds so simple in simple words, but it's not. This novel builds convincing lives and involves the reader deeply in their resolution. Beautifully absorbing internal dialog blends with awkward questions and answers to create a vivid whole--four vivid wholes. And in the end it's hard to accuse the system of failing these men--more like failure was built into the pattern and healing is hard.
It's a sad story, but not too sad; thought-provoking and inspiring too; and one that I'm really glad I've read.
The intersection of these four lives has unexpected moments of comedy as well as tragedy. Their stories, both before they were hospitalised and their shared experiences, make for compelling and at times uncomfortable reading. In this comparatively short (174 pages) novel the author creates a world in which the best and the worst of human behaviour is manifest. I read this novel in one sitting because I couldn't put it down. This is not a comfortable read: exploration of mental illness rarely is. But for me, the novel was well worth reading and it still has me thinking about the characters, their circumstances and their behaviours.