Kalliope Muse speaks to me

Emigrée from GR

The Trick Is to Keep Breathing: A Novel

The Trick Is to Keep Breathing - Janice Galloway The Trick is to Keep Reading.That is what I had to keep telling myself every 25 pages or so. I would have to break away and move to another book for a bit, before I could breathe in and come back, always willingly, to this Keep Breathing of a novel.There is not too much of a plot in this book. It is the account of a young woman in shock after her lover drowned in a camping resort during holidays abroad. Instead of action what Janice Galloway offers us, brilliantly, is the inner pulsing of a depressed mind. Galloway has Joy Stone, a woman aged 27, narrating the story in first person. In spite of her first name, Joy Stone has a soul that is weighing on her more than her second name. Trapped in her body she tries to undo her Self through anorexia that, amongst other things, will eat away her gums. She is also prone to sudden bursts of other disfiguring initiatives, such as cutting short her hair and dyeing it with strident colors. She is self–inflicting but her broken language, full of non sequitur thoughts and unfinished sentences, is never self-deprecating. Her conception of time is also broken. Galloway uses italics to help us identify flashbacks, but lets Joy narrate the present in disconnected blocks. Stone succeeds in disembodying herself through her account.Galloway has also granted Stone with a very candid language. Many of Joy’s observations become as lucid as those of any acute social critic. As Joy is detaching herself from her surroundings, her comments can at times throw the reader off-balance and have an awakening affect. Her language can break a sunken mind out of its stupor.Amidst the drama of witnessing the hopeless despair of this young woman in deep mourning for her lost happiness, I was struck by the humor in the book. The account is toned with a subtle irony becoming at times a blatant parody. Stone/Galloway puts mental medical assistance in utter ridicule.Humor is brought not only by the joke that Joy herself repeats, repeats, repeats, and repeats (count of four times):Q: How many Psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb?A: One. But the light bulb must really want to change.But particularly, the scenes with her dialogues with a series of shrinks (appropriately named Doctor One, Doctor Two and Doctor Three), just made me burst out laughing.But it is exhausting to live inside a depressed mind. All those irrelevant details upon irrelevant details of this painstakingly observant mind, take up so much of the reader’s energy because they are recorded without affection. I will have to admit, though, that I am not too interested in this kind of barren self-absorption. I prefer tales of fighters, of adventurers, of discoverers and the personalities of creative people who are full of vitality. I look for expansive vistas, and not microscopic visions. I am not talking about triumphalism. Accounts of persons who summon up strength in the face of adversity awaken awe. I prefer to feel fascination.This takes me to consider which can be the possible reactions to suffering or utter distress. In my recent reading of Magda Denes Castles Burning: A Child's Life in War, anger offered the saving path. Luise Rinser’s Prison Diary Gefangnistagebuch would be another. In The Trick, we see Joy on her way to recovery because she ends up picking one of the possible paths suggested by a Self-Help magazine, forgiveness.But I ask myself, to what extent is one entitled to blame and exculpate anyone because that person’s death has sunk one in loneliness and misery. What about the sorrow for the other person’s loss of life?P.S.: If I am allowed a pedantic comment, in the early scene in a Spanish camping resort a local boy comes to tell Joy the news of a drowned Michael, calling on her attention with a: “Signora, Signora!”… Well, that’s Italian, not Spanish.

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