Book Review Archives

In and Out of Madness

By: N.L. Snowden (Delores Jordan)
Reviewed by: Colin Crews
Sneakaboard Press, 2009
$14.95, Paperback

“Madness made me restless,” N. L. Snowden writes in her courageous debut novel In and Out of Madness. The relentless mind of protagonist Lee Thames storms through Snowden’s engrossing story. The semi-autobiographical work is a raw and painful clinic on mental illness, adultery, and addiction.

Bipolar, suffering from multiple personality disorder, and “seriously psychotic,” Lee Thames escapes from a Birmingham mental hospital and returns home to Senora, Alabama, intent on murdering her estranged second husband, Joe. Lee’s memories consume her as she waits through the night to shoot him. The past and present entwine into a single narrative, spanning her life and tumultuous relationships.

Lee’s youthful first marriage to William Peterson shattered before it began when he was shot and paralyzed in the Viet Nam war. Fearing she was unsatisfied and coolly seeking empirical research for a book, William asks Lee to have extra-marital relationships and report back to him. Lee reluctantly agrees and begins a string of affairs both sexual and emotional. She eventually falls in love with Joe Thames, a co-worker from the local paper mill. Lee’s first marriage ends with an ugly fight and a divorce. She and the attractive but dimwitted Joe marry and have a child. Lee’s devotion to her daughter Jolly is loving and unwavering even as her marriage descends into chaos.

Sex addiction drives Joe to engage in multiple secret relationships with other women despite his “open marriage.” His repeated betrayals fuel Lee’s “smoldering anger” and madness. Recognizing that she and Joe are both “too sick to grow up and have a truly mature relationship,” Lee attempts suicide on multiple occasions. Her most recent overdose occurred just before her escape from the mental institution and ensuing plan to kill Joe.

Snowden’s language is stark and frank from the first sentence: “One of us has to die.” Without pretence or hint of affectation, In and Out of Madness has a dark and clever sense of humor. While reflecting on her plan to kill her ex-husband Lee comments that in her brain the “boardroom of good decisions had recessed.”

An edgy treatise on catharsis through confession, In and Out of Madness is revelatory and often disturbing. Snowden’s journey is landscaped with tragic, admirable, and occasionally despicable characters that spring from the page fully formed and brutally real. The narrative blurs between the evening of the planned murder and the past, sometimes without pause or premeditation, and exemplifies Lee’s manic mind in motion. In and Out of Madness is a shotgun blast of frenzy, betrayal, and madness. Oct 2009

Editor’s note: N.L. Snowden is the nom de plume of Delores Jordan of Mobile.

Colin Crews is a freelance writer living in Irondale, Ala.