Books About Crazy People

….Some unorganized comments about three or four books I recently read or re-read (maybe the sixth time for Catcher). They came across my nightstand one after another. All of them, coincidentally (or maybe by subconscious choice), portray craziness.

The trend began with Jonathon Franzen’s new novel, Crossroads. By comparison to the other books mentioned here, Crossroads is a very mild trip. The craziness in his cast of Middle American church-going suburbanites is less visible, cloaked by appearances. Being whacked out to one degree or another is typical. As such, one is subject to mistakes and exposure within a close community of other whackos. Franzen’s skill as a writer here is in showing how insidious and damaging hidden problems can be. It’s a systemic sort of craziness.

More specifically, Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye is loaded with personal neurosis and dangerous self-destructive behavior. In his monologue Holden points out many parts of life that he calls phony. He goes crazy trying to deal with phony people and all the harsh and bogus aspects of the world. His diatribes often echo what many of us have also considered true. There is an undercurrent wish of “if only things weren’t this way.” The irony is heavy: how can someone depressed and alienated be such an astute observer and seem so right? He scares the bejeezus out of us with his erratic and risky choices. He encounters what he had hoped to avoid by running loose and leaping recklessly into the very depths of American crazinesss.

Carlos Castaneda’s landmark account Journey to Ixtlan is like a condensed primer to his series of seven books about the narrator’s apprenticeship to the sorcerer Don Juan Matus. Don Juan is a philosophic genius, teacher, magic man, and also flat-out crazy by normal standards. His instructions to disassemble our own conventional lives and put ourselves into some sort of neutral fog require a willingness to be crazy. The narrator begins as a logical research scholar and is inexorably pulled into the exercises and tenets. He questions his own sanity.

Squeeze Me is a contemporary novel by Carl Hiassen, noted for his satiric descriptions of deranged life in Florida. (Florida is likely to never recover from the tag as America’s ultimate haven of crazy people.) The target in Squeeze Me is Palm Beach high society, where the decadent rich exist outside reality and hide behind piles of money. The plot enables Hiassen to take well-deserved potshots at the crass and corrupt, as well as zing the craziest fucker of them all, the ex-POTUS, who operates now out of Casa Bellicosa (aka in the real world as Mar-Lago).

I like all of these books a great deal. But am currently searching for a book that features sane people.