Though fictional this reads more like non-fiction. So many stories about mental illness go out of hand, tend to make a Gothic madwoman or madman out of the afflicted. This is not that sort of fiction.
This novel is harsh because you live through the unraveling of Isaac Bittman’s mind and life. In a sense, it’s a sort of horror story – because what is more horrifying than not having control of your own mind or personality? Peterson brings us a person struggling with their mental illness rather than a caricature of them. Truly climbing into such a life isn’t as simple as a creative imagination, dissociative identity disorder (or any mental illness really) isn’t something the rest of us fully understand. The reader experiences the ups and downs through Isaac and it makes for heavy-hearted reading. The family aspect just brought to mind how much harder it must be to heal when so many are affected. Mental illness has always been that shameful secret people hid or denied, anyone can look through history and see the inhumane ways such people were dealt with in the past. We like to think we’ve come far (and from a rotten starting point we have) but there is still much more exploration to be had, and understanding.
Treatment is a strange beast too, because there is no quick fix. But the difference between having loved ones and having no one is enormous in getting better. I think the hardest moments were reading about his behavior coming to light- when he couldn’t hide what was happening. This is terribly sad and will make some people uncomfortable but maybe it’s time we get over that feeling and open to the possibility of understanding. Peterson does seem to be trying to bring attention to mental health issues, and it’s a good thing.