If you knew that your brain made up its own narrative sometimes, how would you know what to believe? Beset by manipulative self-help gurus, religious cults, corporate brainwashing and other-dimensional beings that might want to destroy our entire universe, you have to decide what you will believe. That’s where we find Em in the course of Stay Crazy.
Warning: This is mostly a character piece. It moves incredibly slow at first while Satifka builds up the character and life of Emmaline Kahlberg. People that want to jump into a book running breakneck right from the start will not be happy. That’s sad, though, because the time spent establishing the day-to-day reality of Em pays off once everything falls off the rails and the crazy promised in the title hits home. The ride from there isn’t what I would call fun, but it’s a hell of a powerful one.
Tales of nuero-atypicality (in this case, paranoid schizophrenia) don’t have the best track record in genre fiction. There’s a tendency to paint it either as the gateway to grand villainhood or an amazing superpower, both of which are super lame. Instead of the lazy route, Satifka put in the time researching and interviewing to nail down a portrayal which feels honest and heartfelt without any schmaltzy condescension. She shows it as the pain in the ass it is, not being able to see the same world everyone else says they see (and expect you to see). It also is not the be-all-end-all of Em as a character, who is given a whole slew of likes, dislikes and experiences which have nothing to do with her atypical brain chemistry.
We really need more stories like this. Not just in the sense of how it deals with mental illness, but which acknowledge struggles that don’t end cleanly or may not end at all after the big ugly has been banished beyond our realms, while, at the same time, showing us people coming to realize this and accepting it as part of their life while finding value in the small, daily victories.