Juliann Garey's debut novel begins with its narrator doing something unforgivable. That narrator, a studio executive named Greyson Todd, suffers from bipolar disorder, and rather than settle for treatments that leave him dull and foggy, he abandons his wife and child and goes on what amounts to a 10-year bender around the world.
It's very difficult to withhold judgment on Todd for not trying harder to get treatment before leaving his family. And it can also seem a little heavy-handed, but it serves Garey's implicit argument: that sometimes living with this illness, untreated, can seem like the best option.
Interspersed with Todd's adventures in locales such as Thailand and Uganda are flash-forward glimpses of him receiving electroshock therapy at the end of that decade of travel. It's worth pointing out that the descriptions of his electroshock therapy are less disturbing than the descriptions of him descending into mania. Garey — who has also been diagnosed with bipolar disorder herself and has written about the subject elsewhere — writes about these episodes with a jarring, effective immediacy.
You may be able to predict how Todd's life will resolve, and as a self-loathing alcoholic he's a familiar literary type. But Too Bright treats mental illness seriously and sympathetically without coming off like a PSA, or dismissing it with a contrived plot turn. No matter how lost Todd is, he's still human, which makes the havoc his brain chemistry wreaks on him that much more tragic. Oddly, at 289 pages, the book feels too short. It would have helped had Garey dramatized Todd's breaking point more fully, as well as given the other people in his life more to say. But in this first novel, she shows a sharp, witty voice, and an ability to tackle a difficult topic with grace.
JULIANN GAREY :: Back Pages Books, 289 Moody St, Waltham :: January 31 @ 7 pm :: 781.209.0631 or backpagesbooks.com
TOO BRIGHT TO HEAR TOO LOUD TO SEE ::By Juliann Garey :: SoHo :: 289 pages :: $25
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