Lisa Carey Love in the Asylum: A Novel

ISBN 13: 9780066212883

Love in the Asylum: A Novel

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9780066212883: Love in the Asylum: A Novel

Can love save those who believe they are beyond redemption? That is the question at the heart of this eagerly anticipated new novel by the acclaimed author of In the Country of the Young and The Mermaids Singing, an utterly remarkable tale of salvation at the last possible moment in the last place imaginable.

Alba Elliot is tired of being crazy. In and out of Abenaki Mental Hospital more than a dozen times in ten years, fed up with diagnoses that come without cures and a life organized by a days-of-the-week pill case, the twenty-five-year-old children's book writer is waiting for a miracle.

Oscar Jameson, a thirty-year-old drug addict enrolled in the rehab program by his frustrated brother, is not looking for anything so profound. Oscar doesn't believe he has a problem, despite the fact that his "recreation" has cost him everything.

He resents the counselors, the other addicts, and his brother, all of whom insist he belongs there. The only activity Oscar looks forward to is the spirited, sarcastic conversations that have begun with Alba on the hospital lawn.

And so two damaged souls forge a connection.

To call it love would be courting disaster since no bright future could possibly exist between a suicidal manic-depressive and a self-deluding junkie.

Then one day, in the back pages of a hospital library book, Alba finds a letter written seventy years earlier but never sent. Mary Doherty, who was committed by her husband and taken from her children, left behind secret missives about the atrocities done to her and her belief in an ancient healing power. As Alba pieces together Mary's heartbreaking chronicle, she begins to set her hopes on a different kind of medicine.

Brought together by chance, influenced by forces as beautiful and powerful as they are unforeseen, Alba and Oscar will slowly rise from the ashes of despair and self-destruction and, in the midst of righting an old wrong, begin to heal their battered spirits. A superbly crafted, poignant narrative of tragedy and triumph, Lisa Carey's moving third novel is a testament to the surprising resilience of the human heart.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

Lisa Carey is the author of The Mermaids Singing, In the Country of the Young, and Love in the Asylum. She lived in Ireland for five years and now resides in Portland, Maine, with her husband and their son.

From The Washington Post:

Like the crazy people in most books, Alba Elliott, the protagonist of Lisa Carey's third novel, Love in the Asylum, speak in riddles. But Alba is not like the whimsical muses who haunt the stark hallways and padded cells of most fictional institutions: Her riddles have an odd, slightly depressing logic to them. When asked why she set her house on fire, she answers, "Because I was tired." "Tired of what?" the doctors ask. "Tired of trying to remember all of the things I would have to save if the house caught on fire."

After 10 visits to the Abenaki Hospital in the course of her 25 years, Alba has grown exhausted with her own salvation. The bipolar cycle of flying high, self-destructing and then crawling out of the mire no longer suits her, so she's resigned to charting a safe middle course, accepting her illness as her father has urged her to do for years. "Her plan is this: she will take her medication every day for the rest of her life; she will live mentally muzzled and stop wishing for something more exciting."

Of course, something more exciting often finds you the second you stop looking for it. Oscar, a fellow patient half-heartedly trying to kick a lifelong romance with drugs and alcohol, takes an interest in Alba the moment he sees her, and the two fall in love. While love between the institutionalized is so often portrayed as a feverish pitch of reckless abandonment that leads straight to ruin, Alba and Oscar's cautious dance of tentative advances and self-protective retreats feels genuine and slightly sad, the self-conscious efforts of two people at the end of their allotment of second chances.

But walking a thin line between restraint and indulgence, while aiming to please as much as humanly possible, takes so much discipline that it threatens to squeeze the soul's longings out of the picture. Recognizing the difficulty of dramatizing this struggle, Carey adds another dimension to her narrative: The Abenaki hospital was built on land that once belonged to the Abenaki Indians, a group who "managed to save a scrap of their homeland by maintaining a neutral position between warring French and English colonists, and making themselves useful to both." Alba discovers the letters of Mary, a former female patient of the hospital and descendant of the Abenaki who scrawled messages to her son in the pages of books in the hospital library.

By weaving Mary's heartbreaking story into the book, Carey highlights a theme that would be difficult to explore in her love story: how the most precious parts of our identities can be rubbed out by others' desires to have us conform to their wishes. And by exposing how our gifts can be mistaken for afflictions, Carey stays true to the impossible dilemma of manic-depression and other problems requiring medication that can rein in the wildness of our spirits. Alba has learned by trial and error that turning her back on her sickness is no longer an option, but she starts to recognize that she can't trust the guidance of those who, on the surface, seem to want to help her get well. While the Abenaki tribe's attempts to play all sides eventually lead to disaster, Alba must beat out a dangerous path and forsake the wishes and common wisdom of her caretakers in order to save herself from a slow, sinking death of self-abnegation.

As with her previous works, The Mermaids Singing and In the Country of the Young, Carey populates this provocative story with complicated characters who are somehow easy to comprehend and appreciate. Alba, Oscar and Mary don't win us over with their clever words or lovable quirks. Instead, Carey invites us into the peculiar way their minds construct their own rationales, allowing us to understand each character's reactions to the world, even as we recognize how these behaviors might appear unsympathetic or confusing to others. Within the course of a few pages, we're cheering on these fragile souls, hoping that they'll invent a way around the walls and dead ends they've been repeatedly told they have to accept.

Although the novel's plot can be a little predictable at times -- Alba and Oscar play hard to get with each other for most of the book; Alba's father disapproves of Oscar; Alba and Oscar escape the hospital and wind up in trouble -- Carey consistently chooses heartfelt, authentic moments over their flashier alternatives. She is an author who can be trusted not to take shortcuts. Instead of offering up tidy resolutions that would circumvent the tangled emotional puzzle that her story presents, Carey bravely leans into her own difficult questions. While Alba and Oscar might wish for miracles or easy answers, their real reward is the grace that gratitude and hope can bring to even the most difficult journey.

Reviewed by Heather Havrilesky


Copyright 2004, The Washington Post Co. All Rights Reserved.

"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.

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