Incoherent Madness: Writing about and within Insanity

Not that kind of madness

There’s something alluring about reading or writing about a character going insane or under the influence of drugs. Someone so lost inside their own minds that hippos prance across their dreams, leaves of fall graceful as ballerina marsupials in the stream of never going home.

Wait, what?

I honestly have been considering the adventures of protagonists who are less with us mentally than physically. Sometimes, because the POV characters are snorting some serious stuff or injecting bee venom into their veins, their sentences come out uneven with the universe like gut-flavored Jell-O. Stories written in stream-of-conscious style are difficult enough to read without the character being so overwhelmingly addled.

Take for example Brett Easton Ellis’ American Psycho (spoilers ahead). When not describing what shampoo he uses and criticizing business card fonts, Patrick Bateman likes to violently murder people. Mostly hobos and prostitutes, though, so it’s okay. Toward the end of the novel, Patrick discovers he may not have killed anyone, simply having hallucinated the murders. Of course in the film this is hinted at far more heavily. In the book, reality is up in the air. Do you believe Bateman has murdered people or simply suffering gory delusions?

This is what happens when you shake the ketchup bottle too fiercely.

The unreliable narrator lends a beautiful obscurity to events in a story. Once you realize he is a liar, you question everything you’ve told him up to this point. A lot of writers use this vagueness– this unreliable because of insanity as a plot device that can either seem awesome or like a joke. A good example of how the unreliable narrator can completely change the outcome of the novel is in Fight Club, but I won’t talk about that because I’m not supposed to.

When the character is not insane, he may simply be on drugs while writing it. Imagine Alan Ginsberg’s poetry in prose form. Imagine Naked Lunch. If not the character himself, then perhaps the author is on drugs or drowning in alcohol. And while many writers swear by their personal “muses,” I find much of this incoherent and pointless.

Sometimes, an author can be utterly sober and make no sense. I’m not a huge fan of Joyce and find him overrated, so I’m not afraid to say I quickly gave up on Ulysses.

I’m not saying this cannot be enjoyable, only that by writing it, an author is taking a huge risk. How Anthony Burgess ever published A Clockwork Orange I will never know. On a first reading, this thin book brimming with made-up language, drooges, and psychosis makes very little sense. You need a lot of patience to dismantle and understand such books.

There are good and there are bad, but the question: Are they worth writing? Are they worth reading?

Can we learn anything from writing straight from the mind of a drug-addled lunatic? Perhaps. Though written in harsh grammar and strange language, Requiem for a Dream proved quite readable and interesting, dealing in how addiction takes over

lives. Then again, I would contest that the film does almost just as good a job, so there may not be a purpose in reading the book. Yeah, I said it: sometimes movies are better than the books they’re based on. *Cough, cough, Jurassic Park*

One such book I read nearly a year ago was published by a dark, edgy, experimental publisher Two Dollar Radio. The book was The Orange Eats Creeps by Grace Krilanovich. Reading it is like being doped up while tied to the roof of a train car as it races down the track at a hundred miles an hour. The plot is a mix of local lore, mythic teenagers, hedonistic helplessness, and strange hallucinations. Despite the fact that I still don’t know what happened, the book affected me. I enjoyed at leas the experience of delving into the protagonist’s mind to see things through her warped eyes.

What do you think about reading novels that sometimes don’t make sense or with such unreliable narrators that you question their sanity?

Also, check out this comprehensive list on Litreactor of books about addicts. 

 

About these ads

About derekberry

Derek Berry co-hosts and organizes Charleston youth-centered poetry movement The UnSpoken Word which features a variety of upcoming and established slam poets in various Charleston venues. The UnSpoken Word attempts to give voice to a variety of experiences and implement art to enact changes in coalition local activist movements, most notably the queer community. He also performs in venues and competes in slams across the US. He is a spoken word poet, a photographer's assistant, and a Political Science student at the College of Charleston. He worked as a journalist and columnist for Verge magazine for two years based out of Augusta, GA. He was the first winner of the 827's Holy City Slam. Derek recently published his first chapbook Skinny Dipping with Strangers and released his first spoken word album Perfect Nights, produced by Smohn Jith Studios. The publication of his novel Heathens and Liars of Lickskillet County is also forthcoming through PRA Publishing. Derek Berry has absolutely no clue what he might do with his life, but he's going to make a damn difference.

Posted on June 28, 2012, in books, Characters, Fiction, films, gore, novel, Rant, Teenagers, Word Salad, writer, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,668 other followers

%d bloggers like this: