Love in the Asylum
Lisa Carey
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Buy *Love in the Asylum* online

Love in the Asylum

Lisa Carey
Harper Perennial
304 pages
April 2005
rated 3 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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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.

Curled Up With a Good BookBesides 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."

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Deborah Straw, 2004

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