I was curious as to what this novel would have to offer from the moment I saw the cover and read the blurb. Sometimes a blurb walks the fine balance between revealing what the novel is about and keeping the reader guessing as to actual plot. That was the case with The Wacky Man which means that from the first page Farrell surprised me. This review might hold some spoilers due to plot discussion. Thanks to Netgalley and Legend Press for providing me with a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
Pub. Date: 02/05/2016
Publisher: Legend Press
"My new shrink asks me, ‘What things do you remember about being very young?’ It’s like looking into a murky river, I say. Memories flash near the surface like fish coming up for flies. The past peeps out, startles me, and then is gone…"
Amanda secludes herself in her bedroom, no longer willing to face the outside world. Gradually, she pieces together the story of her life: her brothers have had to abandon her, her mother scarcely talks to her, and the Wacky Man could return any day to burn the house down. Just like he promised.
As her family disintegrates, Amanda hopes for a better future, a way out from the violence and fear that has consumed her childhood. But can she cling to her sanity, before insanity itself is her only means of escape?
The Wacky Man is in and of itself a fascinating book, split, apparently, in to two different narratives with two separate voices. I say apparently because really both voices tell us about Amanda. The novel starts off with a chapter in the really distinctive voice which Farrell creates for Amanda. It’s intensely personal, occasionally rude, and very direct. In some ways the sections of the novel which are told by Amanda are quite reminiscent, to me at least, of The Catcher in the Rye. Holden Caulfield is a very reticent narrator, often asking the reader why they’re even around and wanting to know, while also a very urgent narrator, desperate to tell his story and get his feelings on paper. Amanda is similarly both withholding information while also flinging her emotions into the reader’s face, daring them to keep reading. It makes for fascinating reading. The “second” narrator takes a distant third-person approach to Amanda, still giving the reader an insight into her mins while also creating distance between the reader and the characters, thereby allowing the reader a respite from the emotional intensity of the plot.
The Wacky Man is not an easy read, and that is all down to how explicit and unflinching the plot and Farrell are. Dealing with domestic abuse, the tension between the English and Irish in the late ‘80s and ‘90s and mental health, it’s hard to say that The Wacky Man is enjoyable, according to the word’s standard definition. It can hit very close to home and for some people some parts of the book may even be triggering. However, I believe that the directness with which Farrell describes Amanda’s experiences and feelings is very valuable. Couching things such as domestic violence in metaphors and language that, quite literally, softens the blow can be damaging to the very purpose of writing about it. A narrative such as this has to be shocking, to a certain extent, because it is not a normal kind of story. By going back and forth between the distant third person and Amanda’s highly person but distorted narrative Farrell keeps the reader on the edge of fearing it will all go wrong. In many ways this is one of the novel’s most effective strategies of placing the reader into Amanda’s shoes.
Farrell has to be commended for her writing in this novel. There were times while reading The Wacky Man that I flinched, had to look away, compose myself or even stop reading for a bit. This novel is a perfect example of the kind of book which isn’t fun to read but which is very valuable. You can’t really help but walk away from reading The Wacky Man with a sense of uncomfortable knowing. Domestic violence is something I’ve never been exposed to, thankfully, but since it is, in many ways, still a taboo topic it can be quite hard to truly get a sense of it. These kind of narratives, which take the reader straight into a difficult situation like this, are a kind of learning experience which might give a hint as to the actual nature of such a trauma. Farrell explains the various and complex situations in which Amanda and her family find themselves very well, without necessarily falling into major clichés or stereotypes. There are beautiful passages in The Wacky Man and there is a sense of tragedy which suffuses the novel.
I give this novel…
The Wacky Man is a very intense read which isn’t at home on a beach or in a comfy armchair. It might take some courage to get through but both from a literary and personal angle it is a very rewarding read. I recommend it whole-heartedly to anyone willing to expose themselves to the cruelty of life.