A disturbing, sad, transcendentally beautiful book.
Ashley is a fourteen-year old schizophrenic trying to integrate into society after years of institutionalization. Her attempts at quasi-normality are complicated by a burgeoning obsession with an avant-garde poet known only as Hog Head, of whom little is known but a host of rumors, each more disturbing than the last.
This is a real book. It feels emotionally and psychologically real. The insights it offers are real. The characters feel real, and are often intensely compelling. I can’t remember the last time I cared about a protagonist this much, or the last time I felt this emotionally invested in a book. Maybe never. Unless you’re a psychopath, this book should put you through the wringer. Some parts are truly sad. As sad as listening to Leonard Cohen in the rain while coming down from MDMA. Indeed, some parts are so sad I was tempted at one point to label this misery porn. But some parts are beautiful too, as is the book’s sublime and transcendental message.
The writing is sleek and the characterization is fantastic. Ashley is especially well-realized; Bedlam perfectly captures the essence of solipsistic teenage alienation and elevates it to a plane of hyper-reality. The supporting characters feel organic too, and the narrative seamlessly flows from one point of view to another, enriching the story with numerous perspectives, and demonstrating once again that people who hate head-hopping can F.O.A.D. The hallucinatory imagery is rich and creative, and adds a metaphysical dimension to proceedings.
I will probably forget 90% of all the books I will ever read, but I will never forget this one.