|TITLE: Getting Better |
AUTHOR: Tyr Kieran
BUY IT: Amazon
RATING: 3/5 [in the genre] or 6/10 [all books I’ve ever read].
FOR: Fans of Chuck Palahniuk. People interested in psychology and horror. People who like crime novels or Criminal Minds.
The Basics: Kieran’s short story shows great promise and a blossoming talent. His writing is mostly very clean and fluid, although it could be trimmed for unnecessary descriptions and occasional awkward phrasing. He has a great sense of atmosphere and character. I could get a good feel for the mental hospital and Shaun’s situation right away, and the other mental patients in his class were very vivid, though somewhat over-the-top. The connection between Shaun’s imagination and the events of the story’s end make for a very interesting portrayal of psychotic aggression. I found his actions in class to be a better surprise ending than the actual ending, actually. My main complaint is that many of the details of the psychological illnesses and the psychiatric institution do not seem realistic. However, on the whole, I enjoyed this story and look forward to following Kieran’s growth as a writer.
Plot (4/5): In general, the plot is fast-paced and entertaining. I liked hearing about the other mental patients and Shaun’s instinctive reactions to their stories. I thought it was a very entertaining way of revealing his problems. Some details seemed overdone, though. The description of his father at the beginning never becomes important later, and his abuse at the hands of Marcus also seemed more incidental than necessary. I enjoyed the part during class the best, up until Shaun leaves the classroom. I thought the final reveal was unnecessary and (as I will explain below) not entirely realistic.
Concept (4/5): Violent mental patients (though rare in real life) are not new in literature. You could throw a stone at a list of TV shows and hit an episode of a violent “crazy” person nine out of ten times. Especially the poor schizophrenics, who get a bad (and very fictional) rap from Hollywood. However, Kieran’s portrayal of Shaun is still very well done and enjoyable to read. The way he presents Shaun’s pathology as obsessive thoughts around what he can do with normal objects is a very clever way of showcasing his problems. And, a much more interesting version than “The voice told me to,” so kudos for that.
Characters (3/5): I liked Shaun. Even though he was pretty typical as a mental patient, I felt like I could still get a handle on his personality. The other characters were a little over-the-top. Marcus seemed too much like a caricature of a mental hospital worker. The psychiatrist was definitely not believable as a PhD. Darla and the football player also seemed like caricatures, but I actually liked that part of it. I thought they were just ridiculous enough that they seemed satirical instead of unbelievable, and it added some dark humor to the story that I appreciated. I think Marcus and the doctor needed to be a little more normal or a little more flamboyant to fit in the story. Either full-on satire, or full realism.
Style (4/5): Kieran’s writing is good, and shows a lot of promise as he develops his skill. While the plot could use a bit of polishing, the writing definitely didn’t scream “amateur” like some stories do. Some lines were really wonderfully sharp and well-done; in context, my favorite was, “But here, I’ve no one to protect. So when the footsteps come, I wish them on someone else.” I think the story was best when it was subtle like that. Some of his metaphors are also clever, like the orderly as a “failed parachute.” But when Kieran tried to describe too much, that’s when the writing felt heavy-handed or clunky. Then, this is a personal taste, so judge for yourself. With a little pruning, I think Kieran’s skill would show through even more. The exception being Shaun’s thoughts; here, I thought the excess of description really helped to emphasize the obsessive quality of Shaun’s thoughts.
Mechanics (3/5): Typo-free and well formatted, which is always nice to see! My main concerns relate to realism of the psychology. I’m a psych major, so I get a little nitpicky about these things. One, electro-shock therapy (modernly called Electroconvulsive Therapy) is not painful and would not be administered by orderlies like Marcus. It’s a fairly safe procedure that uses anesthesia and muscle relaxants to prevent uncomfortable spasming, you can’t feel the electricity, and the usual side-effects are stomach-ache and occasional loss of memories very near to the ECT event. Greater memory loss has been reported but is rare. So the portrayal of ECT as some kind of terrifying, painful punishment in modern times just doesn’t make sense. And especially, a trained technician would do the procedure, not an orderly whose job it is to serve lunch.
The other big thing was the schizophrenia bit. If you haven’t read, please skip this paragraph NOW because there will be a spoiler. Basically: schizophrenia is not multiple personality disorder. They are unrelated and anyone having both would be almost unheard of. Either Shaun was misdiagnosed with schizophrenia or the ending is just extremely unlikely.
Take Home Message: An entertaining piece with an interesting internal view of violent obsessions.
Note: I received this copy for free from the author in exchange for an honest review. The price and origin of the story in no way affected my stated opinions.