SOLO PASS by Ronald De Feo. Publisher: Other Press LLC (March 5, 2013). Contemporary fiction. Paperback. 208 pages. ISBN: 978-1-59051-586-0.
“Brains are certainly funny and unpredictable. They can take you on a path of destruction, but then suddenly become helpful.”
Granted unsupervised leave after two months in a psychiatric ward in New York City, a man worries whether or not he’ll be able to handle being outside again. This will be an entire unfettered day to do whatever he wants. To wander wherever he chooses. That’s daunting for someone who’s handed meds three times a day. He’s been sheltered by schedules planned by staff psychologists and social workers. Someone who is locked in. Someone who is being observed.
As he prepares to leave on the solo pass, he examines his relationship to other patients on the ward. His closest friend and confident, Mandy, is a schizophrenic and nymphomaniac. His roommate Carl suffers deep depression—“a kind of visiting darkness and despair he simply doesn’t understand and doesn’t have the power to evict.” Carl suffered a major breakdown five years before. “He’s been in and out of work, and in and out of hospitals, ever since.”
Author Ronald De Feo provides a vivid description of a mental institution from meals to odd conversations and friendships inside you’d perhaps never have outside as well as the reflections on how one finds oneself institutionalized. He thinks about his ex-wife and former profession—“I’d spent years at this firm, years engaged in editorial torture. They’d taken advantage of my grammatical abilities, my skill in judging the written word, which I’d developed as a youth who often had only books to keep him company. They’d worn my brain to the bone, so to speak.” Then there’s the hopelessness, the dark thoughts. The empty feelings. Isolation and despair.
Once he gets out? Things are too bright. Too loud. Too crowded. Overwhelming. And then it’s rather exciting that he can seemingly fit in without being noticed. Here’s the possibility. Maybe he can fit in after all. Be something. Do something. —“Here I was, a current case, a resident of a mental ward, a recovering nutter, and no one recognized the fact. I was pleased, of course. I didn’t wish to be stigmatized. That I blended in so quickly was very encouraging, very hopeful.”
Solo Pass takes us through this exhilarating excursion. A frenzied trip for one man that’s a gigantic step toward his recovery and re-entry into civilization. It might seem that going out alone and taking a bus, buying something in a shop and getting back to one’s place isn’t a major deal but sometimes the little things make all the difference in one’s mind.
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from the publisher.
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