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Bewildering Stories

Michelle Adelman, Piece of Mind

reviewed by Alison McBain

Piece of Mind
Author: Michelle Adelman
Publisher: W. W. Norton
Date: February 8, 2016
Hardcover: 312 pages
ISBN: 0393245705; 9780393245707

There are some books that are hard to put down, and Piece of Mind, by Michelle Adelman, is on that list for me. Written in a conversational style, the prose is simple, yet filled with touches of humor. If I can't go to sleep because I have to turn the page and find out what happens next, I'd call the book a success.

The main character is Lucy, who describes herself in the opening line of the novel as, "I was brain-injured before it was trendy." The victim of a car accident at age three, she lost enough cognitive function to have problems navigating the adult world once she grows up. She can't organize anything: her closet, a job, a relationship, or even herself.

As a result, when her father and caretaker dies of a sudden heart attack, she is left groundless and at the mercy of her younger brother's somewhat indifferent care. This is the first time in her life that she seriously considers what to do with her life. But the choices aren't limitless because of her skill set. She has three loves: her family, her art, and the animals at the Central Park Zoo. Only by figuring out where she fits in with the things she loves most can she determine who she is and where she can go from there.

What I like most about Michelle Adelman's prose is her straightforward style. This translates into believable, if sometimes strange, scenes between the characters that alternately are humorous or melancholy. I think what Ms. Adelman does best is dialogue: she perfectly captures the awkwardness of insincere moments and conversations between strangers. It is where she is truly able to illustrate Lucy's brain injury in a way that shows the character's linear thinking, and how Lucy is unable to process things in the same way as other people.

The book is also peppered with hand-created images, supposedly what Lucy is drawing throughout the story. Honestly, I felt the book didn't need the visual aids to augment the narrative; it might have been better to leave them out and to allow the readers to exercise their own imagination. To me, at least, to show the images in such a concrete way detracts from the text of the story. Also, whereas the narrative has a lot of humor and personality in it, the images do not, and so they don't seem to completely match up with the main character.

But other than that, I thought that this was a fantastic book. I hope you are captured by it as much as I was.

Copyright © 2016 by Alison McBain

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