By: J. Patrick Travis
Reviewed by: Chris Bouier
In Pitching In the Dark, J. Patrick Travis has crafted an insightful glimpse of the effects of mental illness on a typical American family and the consequences of both the denial of these effects and the journey that accompanies the affected individuals’ decisions to face the reality of their situation. It is a tale of compassion and a tale of apathy illustrating how each of these emotions is itself as much of a burden on the sane as the disease is a burden upon its victim. Those who have witnessed firsthand mental illness and its transformational power in their own lives and the lives of others will discover resonances that will potentially help them to derive a more crisp focus on their own situation through Travis’ panoramic examination of common perspectives born of such tragedy.
The style of the novel is decidedly vernacular and ultimately modern. Initially the reader might have some difficulty distinguishing exactly which character is speaking, who is who, and each character’s role in the unfolding story. Also in the first couple of chapters the line between the present and past is blurred as flashbacks are introduced sometimes without clear temporal delineations. I would, however, advise the discriminating reader not to be put off by this literary induced vertigo. Travis in ways echoes Faulkner in these moments of asymmetric prose, and he uses the device in an attempt to affect in the reader an intuitive grasp of the fog and uncertainty of mental illness itself, enveloping and flavoring subsequent chapters with that ephemeral sense of unreality. Furthermore, as the book progresses the device is far less pronounced and more subtle, and a grounding of the reader in its world occurs that parallels the characters’ journeys out of the mist of their uncertainties about their own pasts and those pasts’ integration into their present.
Well-paced through the use of short episodic chapters, full of characters that are easy to identify with and care about, and remarkably insightful towards many aspects of the human condition—those that are contributory as well as those that are derivative of familial systems that involve mental illness—it is a work that is worthy of both its Hackney Literary Award for the Novel and the serious consideration of a broad literary audience. Oct 2008
Chris Bouier is a writer, theatrical technician, and musician in Birmingham.