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Love in the Asylum: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 13, 2004
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Carey, author of In the Country of the Young (2000), again astutely blends realism and magic in this tale of two patients in an upscale Maine rehab center. Alba, 25, has been admitted yearly for 10 years and is currently diagnosed with panic disorder. When Oscar is admitted, they bond immediately, each sensing the possibility of something positive in their lives. Alba then discovers letters written by a patient in the 1930s that were never mailed. The woman, part Abenaki Indian, was a "healer," and her seizures gave her abusive husband the grounds to have her committed. Alba becomes obsessed with the letters this woman wrote to her son up until her death in 1942, and enlists Oscar's help in delivering them to their intended recipient. Like Alba, the reader is moved by the woman's heart-wrenching story of her ability to enter "into the world of souls," and how she was unjustly taken from her children. Although one plot element is resolved a bit too conveniently, this is a haunting and mystical tale. Deborah Donovan
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“A sensitive effort from a talented writer.” (Kirkus Reviews)
“Touching [and] multilayered.” (BookPage)
“Carey is skilled at weaving the disparate elements of the narrative together to reach a satisfying ... resolution....recommended.” (Library Journal)
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It's also the third one that has left me exasperated, because once again, she was blessed with a fabulous premise...and once again, the result was less than 'fabulous'.
So I guess I'm having to admit at this point that what I've been hoping from Ms Carey in terms of her writing potential bearing the sort of fruit that I've felt it should, just ain't gonna happen. Which, as harsh a critic as I may seem, leaves me pretty sad.
When a great storyteller tells a great tale, you get the sense that they have a commanding overview of it all. That is, their talent matches the task they've set out to accomplish. With 'Asylum', I felt all along there was a misalignment between Ms Carey's abilities and the breadth and depth of the premise. In other words, the wonderful potential is not matched with a corresponding quiver of abilities on her part. This misalignment was clear in how I felt once I'd finished the novel: disappointed.
'Asylum' has so much going for it. It's almost staggering to consider the elements, the scope of what Ms Carey bring into play. A person with bipolar whose past is filled with trauma. An addict with an equally harrowing history. A 'backstory' character bringing into play the notion of mood disorders and their treatment in the first half of the 20th century, women's rights, native history, spousal abuse, family dysfunction writ generational... Some unquestionably powerful stuff. And approached differently than these elements were...or by another writer entirely...what might have resulted could have been something particularly memorable.
Allow me to get to the specifics:
-I've come to realize that Ms Carey's authorial voice just doesn't work for me. Something is 'off', we're not simpatico, we just don't click as writer-reader. She doesn't entrance me, she doesn't engage me... I don't feel I'm being swept up in a great storytelling experience, being regaled to the fullest...I feel like I'm dutifully being brought up to date regarding a series of interconnected incidents.
-Once again, Ms Carey chose to have multiple narrator perspectives. I don't believe that this juggling added anything to the effort...in fact, I think it helped torpedo it. Especially as they all sounded so alike.
-The primary writer's credo is 'Show, don't tell'. But Ms. Carey's default seems to be the previously mentioned 'info-dump'. Often her exposition gives the impression of her wanting to get it out of the way and move onto something else. She's far more capable when dealing with human exchanges...although dialogue is definitely not her forté, either.
-The two lead characters really weren't given their due...but they fared better than the rest, who often came across as cardboard cutouts. But I did appreciate her representations of them insofar as how attraction and desire were experienced by two clearly emotionally handicapped adults (teenagers, really). It was authentic, and often had me smiling in agreement.
-Mary Doherty's tale...specifically the way in which it was told...was not well-served. Because of how it was presented, neither was the novel.
-The stylistic choice of no dialogue punctuation...leaving it 'blank'...has always seemed to me to be nothing more than pretentiousness. Its use here just entrenched this belief for me.
-I'm not sure whether this is a regionalism, whether it's a personal affectation on Ms Carey's part, but no matter: it's not 'metered', it's 'meted'.
-I highly doubt that a casual observer in 1939 would make a comment about a cockpit and its glassed-in state.
-The cover of the version I read...a painted represenation of a room...has to be one of the butt-ugliest I've ever encountered.
-And of course, I can't end off without tossing out my standard barb about 'the dearth of editorial oversight'. And to think, she had *two* editors working on this one.
Personal rating: 7/10
The story traces the relationship between two patients one of whom has found letters from the past written in the backs of library books. The story bounces between all three characters and tells of their backgrounds and trials.
It's a quick read with enough twists to keep you interested and entertained. Some contest, naturally, was depressing, but the book keeps perspective and forward momentum.
It's not too light, but it's not overwhelmingly sad. The character of Oscar adds levity. I enjoyed the dialogue which doesn't get hung up on "he said, she said," and pushes the story along.
The use of asylum reports and patient information was a great way to document the details of the treatment and diagnosis of the patients. I found these a very interesting part of the novel.
There are a lot of interesting developments and the typical mental institution story is told in a fresh way.