Tag Archives: alcoholism

Just Like Someone without Mental Illness Only More So by Mark Vonnegut

I was intensely interested in reading Just Like Someone without Mental Illness Only More So for a couple of different reasons. The first one is that it’s by the son of Kurt Vonnegut, one of my favorite authors. The second is that the premise of the book is that he discusses what it’s like to be both a successful doctor and a person with bipolar disorder. I liked his description of how his life unfolded and appreciated his insight into his life as a whole. I’ve not read his fiction, but I would say that his ability to show the reader what it is like to have a mental disorder while maintaining a successful and functional (for the most part) lifestyle shows there might be a familial tie for writing talent.

Vonnegut talks a bit about what it was like to grow up with his father. Kurt was a gruff man – if you want to put it mildly – and, despite the good things he did, like taking in his nephews after their parents died, Mark Vonnegut doesn’t give the impression that he ever did become an outwardly caring father. What he does show us is that his father was there when he needed him, like during his hospitalizations.

One aspect of Vonnegut’s book that I especially liked was that he wrote about what it was like to be in school and become successful at his profession and then have his disease get out of control. I think most people don’t get the fact that people with bipolar disorder can recover. It’s important, in my opinion, that people like the author come forward and talk about the fact that, yes, he has a mental illness, and, yes, he has been hospitalized for it, and now he’s doing well as a physician (and not only a physician, but a pediatrician).

I also liked that he talked about self-medication. For him, the substance of choice was alcohol, and it caused serious problems for him and his family. No matter what the drug, I think it’s important for people to know that substance abuse can be a sign of undiagnosed or improperly treated mental illness.

One thing I didn’t like was that Vonnegut appears to still have some of the risk-taking behaviors. He became a mushroom hunter and, at one point, ate one that wasn’t so good for him. His wife had to take him to the hospital to get his stomach pumped. I don’t know if it was included as an example to say that he’s not “cured” and that treatment of bipolar disorder is an ongoing process, but I found it scary that he might not realize that he still has urges to do reckless things that he might not have even full reflected on.

Overall, I’m glad Vonnegut wrote Just Like Someone without Mental Illness Only More So. A lot of people will be educated and a lot of people will find hope within its covers.

Rating: 4/5.

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The Prince of Frogtown by Rick Bragg

I’ve read All Over But the Shoutin’.  I’ve read Ava’s Man.  And now I have read The Prince of Frogtown, the most recent book Rick Bragg has written about his family and childhood in the rural Deep South.  I am heartily glad he has continued to write these personal books, because he has gotten so much better.

This particular book is about the life of his father, Charles Bragg, who was a charming but somewhat feckless man.  A veteran who was scarred by the Korean War, Charles changed, going from a man who was sweet toward his children and wife into an alcoholic who frightened and abandoned them.

Bragg writes with frankness about his father, having to learn much about him from other people — his mother, his relatives, and men who were Charles’ friends.  Due to the fact that Bragg had relatively little information, I think he did a better job writing about him in a dispassionate manner.  He is able to reflect upon his father’s actions and see the mistakes as clearly as the endearing things he did.  He was forced to contemplate his father in a way he did not have to do with his mother and his maternal grandfather, respectively, in his previous two books.

The big thing that makes The Prince of Frogtown special, however, are the corresponding stories about his relationship with his stepson.  They are funny, they are sad, they are frustrating, embarrassing, and very real.  In those stories, with Bragg’s struggle to understand a child whose background is so different from his own so apparent, and his wish to be able to shape and guide him without having an adequate model for being a father, is strikingly apparent.  Their relationship is a good one, but is one that needed much guiding and instruction from Bragg’s wife and his stepson.

This was the part that pulled on me the most.  I’ve read three books by him now; this is the first time I have felt compassion for him.  I rue that he did not have a father who was a model of good parenting, someone like his grandfather Bundrum.  I could say that the reason this book is the best of the three is that the voice is clearer, without the at-times cloying spelling and hokey colloquialisms that would pop up in the narration of the two previous books, but it’s more than that.  For the first time, Bragg trusts us and bares some of his soul to us.  This makes him more human than either of the other two books did, where he kept the reader at arm’s length by using uncomfortable language and never letting us see his personal life in a meaningful way.

I loved that he’s let us in.  Let us hope that he has more to show us in the future.

Rating: 4.5/5.

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Filed under 4.5/5, Book review, Favorable, Nonfiction