Monday, September 2, 2013

A Written Word Review: Too Bright to Hear Too Loud to See

     Juliann Garey's debut novel, Too Bright to Hear Too Loud to See, is one of those books that sometimes painful to read. Not painful because it's poorly written (because it definitely isn't) or painful because the plot isn't good (because it definitely is), but painful because of the all-encompassing and unflinching look at mental illness (in particular, bi-polar disorder) and the ramifications of letting it go unchecked for far too long. There have been plenty of popular stories in Hollywood and in books lately about different mental illnesses, but Garey's novel is sad, surprising, and super.
      The book's star is Greyson Todd, a Hollywood studio agent that has managed to barely hide his disorder from friends--and to a lesser extent, family--until one day when he just decides to leave his wife and daughter and go on a world-spanning pilgrimage in search of something. What that something is is the main part of Greyson's journey. But like bi-polar disorder itself, the novel moves and switches gears at breakneck speeds, zooming between decades, memories, the present day and electro-shock treatments in connecting ways.
     It can be a bit jarring at first: the beginning of most chapters is a new time and place in Greyson's life. But after only a paragraph or two, Garey sucks you into the new location with expert description and Greyson's troubled personality. Obviously, the real star of Too Bright to Hear is the incredibly realistic depictions of mental illness and how that illness can completely encompass a human being through mood swings, depression, panic attacks and manic episodes. But the key is Garey's expertise in making the subject matter completely relatable: now matter how far Greyson falls off of the deep end, you feel for him, and it's impossible to not imagine yourself in his position, with an illness that completely envelops him like a storm cloud.
     It's such a strong debut novel, but that makes sense because Garey herself has dealt with bi-polar disorder along with numerous members of blood relatives. She was quoted in Los Angeles Magazine as saying that she's had "five suicides in two generations" of her family. The depictions of some of the more manic episodes in the book are incredibly well-done, delving deep inside Greyson's brain, experiencing every heightened sense and nonsensical thought right alongside him. And that's the true accomplishment of Too Bright to Hear Too Loud to See: it makes an illness that is mainly misunderstood become something fully experienced instead of frowned upon.

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