Like some of my classmates, I was really captivated by this story’s subject matter of schizophrenia, delusions, hallucinations, and the like. I was a little shocked at first to hear that Powell himself doesn’t suffer from mental illness, but it made more sense to find out that he had been working with mentally disabled adults for some time. I thought he did a great job at capturing something that so many find impossible to communicate. Since I don’t suffer from these conditions myself, I can’t attest to whether or not he did them justice. But I can say that I did learn how terrifying, disorienting, and disruptive it can be to suffer from a mental illness.

For my web search, I wanted to find some other pieces of fiction that attempt to do the same thing as Powell did here–fictional accounts of a mental illness or condition that try to give the reader/audience a glimpse at what it’s like to live with it. One I kept running in to over and over again in my searches was I Know This Much Is True by Wally Lamb. ┬áLamb’s novel is supposed to be quite long (most publishings seem to be between 800 and 900 pages) but like Swallow Me Whole, it tells a story of two siblings, one of whom is schizophrenic and the other has his own emotional problems to boot. I imagine if, like me, you were really compelled by Nate Powell’s gripping representations of mental illness in Swallow Me Whole, this book by Lamb is worth checking out.

However, the one I’ve read and can personally vouch for is The Whalestoe Letters by Mark Z. Danielewski. The Whalestoe Letters are actually a part of Danielewski’s larger work House of Leaves, which is a trip in and of itself. But the Whalestoe Letters stand alone as a deeply moving account of living with mental illness, and the way illness can affect families. Like Swallow Me Whole, it’s also fictional, but somehow Danielewski seems to draw us right into the mind of a seriously disturbed person. It’s a short piece (much shorter than Lamb’s novel) so look into it if you get a chance. (You can explore it some through the “Look Inside!” feature for free on Amazon, but I don’t think this does it total justice).

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  1. Danielewski is primarily a fiction writer and no, he’s not schizophrenic. He’s a trippy one though, so I wouldn’t recomend him for most people’s reading pleasure (I have to be in a certain mood to read his stuff… it’s been three years, but I recently finally finished House of Leaves).

    For a biographical account on schizophrenia, try reading The Center Cannot Hold by Elyn Sacks.

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