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The Double Bind: A Novel

The Double Bind - Chris Bohjalian I enjoyed the book, unexpectedly. At first it was hard for me to get into and I thought, gee this isn't going to be as good a book as most usually are...but then it captured my interest and I was really glad I continued to read it.
Initially, I thought of it as a simple mystery involving maladjusted people, with serious secrets about events that scarred their lives, who were connected by “6 degrees of uncanny separation”. I thought the book would end with a manuscript filled with revelations Laurel discovered which would enlighten all those around her to the rewards of her investigation and make them feel foolish for doubting her. At one point I even thought she was going to discover that her own mom had an affair with Gatsby or Tom! The ending was a total surprise for me. I did not anticipate it at all.
I was also really shocked to find out that her memories of her attack were completely false. I was amazed that she was able to channel her illness, delusions, into a career which counseled other ill people so I had no idea that she was ill too. There were hints about her own inability to recognize what had happened to her, like never taking off her top when she was with her boyfriend, but I never picked up on them.
I don’t think there were hints that David’s children were not real, that I could find, especially since the book speaks about the children from his perspective,…even having to pick up cindy after her swing accident, for instance. This was spoken in David’s voice, in the book, not in Laurel’s. She does say that she doesn’t see the children often, however, so perhaps that is a hint that they are not real…she indicates that he keeps his private life separate from her, as a rule, which is to her liking. Since he wasn’t in the room when she returned home, I thought afterwards that perhaps he might not have been real either but apparently, according to Dr. Pierce's statement, he was.
I thought it was an amazing examination of the various ways that mental and emotional illness displays itself. So often, signs and warnings go undiscovered because those suffering are very adept at hiding their demons and symptoms. Their delusions often aid and abet them in this effort.
On p. 348 the author writes…For a moment, she sat in her car because she was crying once again, and didn’t know whether it was because she was exhausted beyond words or because no one believed her, or whether she was sobbing for a homeless man who had learned as a boy how callous and cruel grown-ups could be. How capable of delusion. Distortion. Disdain.
Was Laurel also referring to herself, having learned that no one believed her either? Didn’t she view those people with disdain when they showed doubts about her delusions, which she believed were real? Wasn’t she distorting the truth? Did she on some level realize this? The statement is a double-edged sword for it applies to herself as well as other adults around those who are suffering from mental and emotional illness. I believe those few sentences say a great deal about the message in the book.
Laurel was not believed because she was delusional. Yet, it was her own delusions that allowed her to function. She distorted the truth so she could live with it and create somewhat of a productive life for herself. The people around her did not seem to be aware of how ill she was and yet she had undergone psychiatric treatment for a long time. They deluded themselves by distorting the truth, did they not?
Perhaps when Laurel became involved with the photos, she stopped taking her meds since she sunk into a period of obsession and despair, often not eating or caring for herself hygienically. She looked upon others who didn’t understand her “world” with disdain. Those that knew her ignored the signs of her relapse. Perhaps deluding themselves so they wouldn't have to deal with it. I am sure many of us have been guilty of distorting the truth to avoid a disagreeable task.

Bobbie was not believed either because he was disturbed, although his delusions apparently were based on some form of reality. His illness was exacerbated by the knowledge of his paren't infidelity. Pamela wanted to delude the world about her parent’s background…and distort the truth…anyone who believed something other than what she believed was disdained! She also hid her unpleasant memories to protect herself and yet she was not viewed as irratrional, but rather hard and difficult, snooty and untouchable. What makes one person's reaction fit into the realm of normal while another's similar reactions are viewed as insane or unbalanced? What makes one person's delusions carry them over the edge? Is it how they view their trauma or how they decide to deal with it?
Regarding this book, I myself am not sure where the reality begins and ends, as well! I need to think more about it or perhaps reread it, now that I know how it ends, to discover what the author meant was real and what was a delusion.
Those three words...delusion, distortion, disdain, seemed important to me when I finished the book. Perhaps we all delude ourselves when we see people who suffer from mental illness and dismiss them as less than human, sometimes, stepping around them, giving them histories like drug addiction, so we can excuse our behavior toward them. We distort the truth so we can treat them with disdain. We also distort the truth to delude ourselves sometimes, to avoid facing issues and responsibilility. Do those three words sometimes actually describe everyone to some degree?

the issue with the main characters was that their view of reality was skewed. they lived in a world between reality and fantasy. i honestly had no idea that what i was reading was actually the fantasy in laurel's mind and not really what was happening or had happened while she explored the fantasy in bobby's mind!

I feel as if the author gave his reader the same emotinal/mental illness as his characters, in a way. he was able to skew my view of reality, in the end. that is why i thought the book was so wonderful. he made me a character or at least he made me identify with them in all their confusion.

their illness was mine too. i could not distinguish between the reality and the fantasy either.