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Piece of Mind


Piece of Mind

The novelist’s task is a difficult one: to create characters, settings and plots out of one part thin air and two parts imagination. So I’m always especially intrigued by --- and often in awe of --- novelists who set themselves an even more difficult task by choosing to write from the point of view of someone whose characteristics or disabilities profoundly affect how the story will be told. Narrating a story in the voice of a blind person is fiendishly difficult. Have you ever tried to describe a whole world without resorting to how things look? Or narrating from the point of view of someone with autism or dementia? Again, who these characters are affects in a very fundamental way how their story is told.

"Adelman beautifully conveys Lucy’s idiosyncratic voice and outlook on the world, including her blunt observations on the people she meets..."

This time, I’m in awe of the narrative feat accomplished by debut novelist Michelle Adelman, whose PIECE OF MIND is told from the inimitable point of view of Lucy, a young woman who, in her own words, “was brain injured before it was trendy.” Ever since a car accident just before her fourth birthday, Lucy has had a brain that works a bit different from other people’s. She excels at art and likes to teach, but has real troubles with math, and especially with executive functions, the kind of skills that enable neurotypical people to stay organized, make decisions, hold down a job and basically make it through the day. Lucy envisions her damaged brain as a pinball machine, filled with “pockets of potential” waiting to be lit up, but also full of dark zones representing functions she has lost.

For most of her life, Lucy has relied on her dad, who helps her by making lists, reminding her to take her medication, and encouraging her to apply for jobs. Her dad’s love and support make it possible for Lucy to feel safe and cared for, whether or not she remembers to brush her hair or wash her clothes. But when her dad dies suddenly, Lucy faces an unpleasant choice: go into a group home or move into her younger brother Nate’s studio apartment in New York City. Nate had been attending college, but after their father’s death, the discovery of the extent of his debts means that he not only can’t continue his studies but also has to find a job to support himself and, now, his sister.

Nate is working long hours, and Lucy doesn’t know anyone in New York. But she finds herself drawn to two new places: the Central Park Zoo and a nearby coffee shop. There she can drink cup after cup of coffee, draw portraits of animals, and eventually befriend Frank, the coffee shop owner’s son, who also has suffered a brain injury. As Nate grows increasingly distant, Lucy must rely on herself to grieve the loss of her dad and make her way in the world.

Adelman beautifully conveys Lucy’s idiosyncratic voice and outlook on the world, including her blunt observations on the people she meets (and her pencil drawings, which were actually done by Adelman’s sister). She resists pat, too-easy endings, and instead focuses on realistically depicting Lucy’s strengths and weaknesses, humor, failings and tentative steps toward believing in her own capabilities.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on February 12, 2016

Piece of Mind
by Michelle Adelman

  • Publication Date: March 14, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
  • ISBN-10: 0393353559
  • ISBN-13: 9780393353556