Lisa Carey's third novel, Love in the Asylum, is a tender book about
the resilience of the human psyche and heart. It centers on Alba
Elliott, a twenty-five-year-old writer of children's books, and her
relationship with Oscar Jameson, a thirty-year-old drug addict. When
they meet, they are both living at the Abenaki Mental Hospital, where
Alba has been a resident numerous times. She is manic-depressive and
prone to frequent mood swings. She is able to forge quite a successful
career as a creative book writer during her high periods. When she is in
a low period, she revisits Abenaki. Oscar is a young man bent on self-
destruction, yet a man with a fiery will to live.
Besides the two younger people, another primary character is Alba's
father, a supportive yet sometimes misguided man who believes Alba
should take more drugs than she wants to. He just wants her to mellow
out. Alba feels differently: "What she secretly hopes for is a miracle --
mental health without the dependence on drugs that snuff out her soul."
Aside from the slow-building and engaging relationship between the two
vulnerable souls, another important event occurs. While Alba is spending
much time in the hospital's library, she runs across a letter from Mary
Doherty, who was committed to the hospital many years before. Doherty
was part Native American and had visions that could greatly influence
people's lives. She was a healer who had "fits" that led her into other
states of consciousness. Her "modern" relatives thought this made her
certifiably mad, and sent her to hospital to live out her days. Although
she was almost released on several occasions, she was never freed. Alba
sets out to find out more about this wise woman and to find her
remaining relatives and deliver the numerous letters to their rightful
sources. This meaningful quest helps Alba regain more sanity, as does
her growing love for and trust of Oscar.
This is an imaginative, kind novel. Yet, although it is eminently
readable, and the reader is always rooting for the protagonist and her
boyfriend, the narrative sometimes feels a bit rough around the edges.
Chapters don't flow into chapters as tightly as they might. Ends of
chapters don't always make the reader want to continue.
Nevertheless, this book is definitely worthwhile. It is inspiring and
educational to read about people with mental illness and addictions
trying to improve their lives. The mentally ill are the most current
group needing more equitable rights and treatment in this country;
they have been almost invisible for too long. More books like this will
perhaps begin to reduce the stigma and discrimination against those
labeled with a mental illness. Carey's novel will help some readers
understand how close those with mental illness are to all of us, "there
but for the grace of God."