Reviewed by Rod McLary
The debut novel by Tom Pitts has its origin in two songs he wrote [Tom is a musician as well as a writer] which is reflected in the lyricism which imbues the novel. Narrated in the first person by twenty-eight-year-old Matt Lacey while recovering in a mental health facility from a breakdown, the novel takes the form of a journal – his Mental Health Journal. Matt’s therapist suggests he write the journal as part of his healing process to ‘unpack issues that are yet to be confronted’ .
This literary technique provides an immediacy to Matt’s story as he reflects on his current situation and gradually works through the circumstances which brought him to the facility. At the novel’s heart is a love affair and a tragedy; and while Matt can readily, and with recalled pleasure, reflect on the former, he struggles with confronting the reality of the latter. And this is the purpose of the journal – to facilitate his breaking through the defences he has created around what really happened to the beautiful Christina. In Sigmund Freud’s theory of the mind, it is claimed that the purpose of psychoanalysis was to bring into the conscious mind that which has been repressed – for example, traumatic experiences – in the unconscious mind. Matt’s journal provides the mechanism for his unconscious memories to come forward into consciousness.
But it is a journey which takes some time and as Matt skirts around the edges of the tragedy, we learn about his family, the circumstances in which he first meets Christina and the somewhat dysfunctional family to which she belongs. Matt’s family is itself riven by tensions which contribute to the turmoil waiting ahead. The source of one tension is the barely acknowledged connection between Matt’s father and Christina’s mother – a connection which is alluded to but not revealed until towards the novel’s conclusion.
The author has captured brilliantly the insecurities of early adolescence as Matt and Christina fumble towards a relationship with Christina the more mature and self-possessed while Matt is ‘still brooding over the disgrace of having my hair crushed by Connie’s hug’ .
As the novel – and Matt’s journal – progresses, we begin to see glimpses of the tragedy which lies ahead for the two teenagers. It is only in Matt’s dreams that some semblance of reality surfaces but, even then, it is filtered by his defences. But this is of course the intent of the journal – to bring into consciousness that which is repressed. Along with Matt, the reader is taken on the journey towards to the truth and it is a journey well worth the effort as more and more of the tragic event is revealed.
When the truth is revealed, Matt tells us: our defence is to warp things that can’t be borne, so that we can bear them .
There is an authenticity which flows through the novel so effectively that the reader can readily believe that the author is speaking from his own experience of therapy. But it is a work of fiction and all the stronger for that. In some passages, there is an urgency beautifully captured by the text. A prime example occurs on page 302 when Matt is running after Christina – in the dark during a storm – where the text pulls the reader along with urgency and tension. After a 68-word sentence, there comes a succinct resolution: ‘Suddenly it was light’ . And the reader can breathe again.
Tom Pitts has crafted a novel which grips the reader from the first page and doesn’t let go until the end. Matt is an engaging young man and one can empathise with him in his confusion and uncertainty as he unravels the events leading up to the tragedy. The conclusion of the novel is totally believable.
Strongly recommended to all readers of fine literature.
Tom Pitts is a Melbourne-based writer, teacher, and musician. He studied performing arts at Monash University and was a founding member of the Indie theatre company AtticErratic. This is his first novel.
Electric and Mad and Brave
by Tom Pitts
ISBN 978 176098 809 8