Friday, June 7, 2013

A Bipolar Writer, With a Chaotic Mind and an Alter Ego Named Gideon

First Paragraph:

"No screaming this time. Nobody drying out with the DTs, no meth-mouths groaning through  black teeth. I kept my eyes shut and willed myself through the walls."

  Amazon / 

What Makes You Die by Tom Piccirilli is an odd read.

The main character, Tommy Pic, may share the author's name, but I am assured that all characters and event are fictitious (though to what extent, who knows?). The story starts with him waking up in a psych ward, strapped down to a bed (a commonplace occurrence for him apparently). The last time he woke up with the straps, was a couple years previously, when he attempted to 'hara-kiri' himself with a steak knife. Not because he wanted to die (necessarily), but because he was trying to get Gideon out. Gideon lives in his stomach, and is the ghost of a giant komodo dragon- who lived during the Pleistocene Age, and whose fossil is now on display in the Queensland Museum in Australia. For those wondering, it didn't work. He lost four foot of intestine, but Gideon is still inside him.

A depressive, bipolar,  alcoholic, who is subject to frequent blackouts, Tommy is lost in the past. He is a screenwriter, though somewhat of a failed one. There was a time when he was moving up in the scene, living in Hollywood, he had the world in his hands. A few of his scripts were picked up, but then changes were made, he lost his spark and all his money and is now most famous for films he despises, and living in his mother's basement. 

His father died when he was eight, one of his friends went missing a few years later, and his wife left him when his career took a downward turn. Memories haunt him, and due to his imagination and profession, they play out in front of him, like one of his movies, with full surround-sound. He spends hours lost in his own mind. He focuses on his failings and his losses, creating a bleak environment, that looks as washed out as he feels. 

But the words don't flow anymore. He's tried everything. So when his agent, Monty, tells him he loves his latest manuscript, Tommy is more than a little confused (while breaking the fourth wall a bit. The manuscript is 'What Makes You Die', but seems to tell a completely different story to this one). Monty returns his script with amendments and asks him for the next act by Monday. Tommy leaves panicked. The script is written on his paper, has his name, everything about it screams that he wrote it, but he can't remember writing it at all. 

He meets various characters, though I'm not sure how many of them are actually real, but neither is he, and attempts to find closure, or finish his script, or come to terms with his past, or any number of things.

If you're having trouble figuring out the plot, don't worry. The entire book is practically told constantly in Tommy's mind, with not too much dialogue. Because of this, if can be confusing for the reader, as Tommy's mind is a chaotic mess, his thoughts whirl around in his head, howling. It is a jumbled flow of information, that is hard to understand and yet somehow causes unease. I doubt even he understands half the stuff that happens in this story.

There are times when this book is quite tiring to read. There are no breaks in the story, just a constant, turbulent flow of turmoil, self-loathing and uncertainty, that takes its toll after a while.

This is a bleak, reasonably dark story, but with a surprising amount of humour. I would describe it more, but one of the characters  (Timmy Pic himself, in fact) explains it so well, I'll let him do it:

     "Innocent kid who hasn't had his liver torn out and stuck on a pike yet:

    Mr. Pic, some of your work is intensely stark and bleak, but it's also surprisingly funny. How do you manage to put so much emphasis on such spiritual pain and have laughs along the way?"

That describes his writing style in a nutshell. To hear the answer you'll have to read the book. Oh, and what a good answer it is. 

Going through the story, with its lack of direction, there comes a point when you believe you've found the plot. It seems like it's going to be this big thing, this conclusion, this remedy for his mind, something to fix the damage that begun so long ago and help get his life back on track. Then it finishes with a a completely different, very ordinary and not quite fitting ending. There is a hopeful air to it, though it's still a little unsure, but doesn't entirely work with the rest of the story. 

It's almost like the majority of the book is coated in deep fog, that makes it hard to tell what's going on, and then it lifts right at the very end and changes the story, it changes everything. The oddities that frequent the pages are made trivial and such a normal ending does not fit with the insanity that came before it. 

After finishing the book, I went back, thought about the plot and discovered it to be something very simple- a writer overcoming his writer's block. There are a few additions and complications, but that is basically what the story is, though you wouldn't know it. But they do say it's the journey and not the destination. 

Overall, this is an unusual book, quite macabre in places, and will most likely be a hit-or-miss kind of book. You'll either like it or you won't. For what it's worth, I enjoyed it, though most likely didn't understand most of it. I'm not even entirely sure whether most of the events in the book even happened or were just delusions of Tommy Pic's mind. I don't think he knows.

Maybe I enjoyed it because it was unusual. Because it's not something you read everyday. Why I enjoyed it isn't really relevant, all that matters is that I did- though the confusion does lessen than somewhat. 

Disclaimer: I received this book through a Librarything giveaway. This is not a sponsored review. All opinions are 100% my own. 

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