Review By Don Sloan
I will start this review with the candid declaration that I’m not smart enough to do this fine book justice.
My learned colleagues — the other reviewers on this book’s Amazon page — speak of judeobiblical and Nordic traditions; of initiatory crisis and the spiritual significance of the Tarot cards that figure so prominently in this sweeping, image-filled narrative.
I can only speak of what this beautifully written novel meant to me, a mere reader.
I feel that I may be uniquely qualified to comment on the apocalyptic nature of the passages that give this exceptional work its lifeblood. As a clinically depressed, bipolar individual now firmly committed to antipsychotic medications in order to keep my own “visions” under day-to-day control, I can say with some certainty that the author has set down in writing many of the extraordinary hallucinations and mind-bending experiences those of us with mental illness undergo without benefit of therapeutic and, often, life-changing drugs.
Indeed, for many years of medically undiagnosed existence, I thought, as the central character in this book does, that I was “crazy,” and “weird”– a sentiment routinely reinforced by friends and family. It is, as Arkin notes, a singularly lonely state of being.
But, I digress. The task at hand is to try to offer a cogent review of a superbly rendered piece of transcendental fiction — the story of a deeply troubled young man trying to come to grips with a near-constant state of mind that drives him to live in fear and the utmost anxiety of his perceived surroundings each day. The author portrays the visions of the mentally ill to almost cinematic perfection:
“Time drags past as she shreds my skin and I agonise helplessly. I look around for the big dog to save me from her again but he is nowhere to be seen. A woman in a white dress is standing in the doorway, her body moving in laughter inside a seashell. She straightens up and our eyes meet and lock. Her gaze is a twisting storm that draws me to its eye.”
I have seen the big dog myself — as have many undiagnosed and untreated schizophrenics and others with severe personality disorders. In most cases, however, it represents not safety but your own death stalking you constantly, and your mind regularly conjures figures of salvation — not unlike the lady in white. Achingly lovely, but forever beyond your grasp.
In reading about Arkin’s journey toward carefully controlled sanity with Dr. John Francis as his metaphysical guide, I was reminded often of the teachings of Don Juan in the groundbreaking books by Carlos Castaneda. Although Castaneda’s visions were purportedly peyote-induced — and, quite possibly, also fictional — they struck resonant chords with me back then as I struggled, like Arkin, to find respite from my own “strangeness.”
As I said, the other reviewers probably have much more insight into this excellent book’s true meaning. But, taken all by itself, even without the scholarly interpretations, it still has much to say to those of us who have lived in Arkin’s world and, thankfully, survived.
Five-plus stars to The World, and to its prescient author, Robin Wildt Hansen.
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