Storm Chasers – Jenna Blum

“Their breath is agitation, and their life/ A storm whereon they ride.”
Byron

Is it a book review? Is it a therapy session?*

Charles is a bipolar (type 1, rapid cycling, psychotic features) stormchaser, who disappeared for two decades. His twin, Karena gets a phone call from a psych ward, but by the time she gets there, he’s vanished again. She joins professional stormchasers on a bus tour to look for him. Plot and flashbacks happen.

I was compelled to write about bipolarity in a storm context, to explore through Charles and Karena these “storms in the mind’s eye.” These mood storms and their consequences comprise the heart of the novel.
Jenna Blum

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Watching bipolarity happen in a storm context made me wince at times. I’ve read more first person than onlooker descriptions … it’s all rather sobering. Maybe some relief there too, that it isn’t about me.

Of course, the present is where the narrator must stand, looking back and forth and trying not to get whiplash. In books, shadows must always be faced. A tragedy, a secret, a suicide attempt, a love story.

“This is not safe,” Karena says. “They are all fucking crazy. This is not safe at all!”

You’ll learn plenty about storms; the author is a stormchaser herself. She communicates the thrill and the fear well. What the reader learns about bipolar is often a bit stilted, she’s not bipolar and she doesn’t always quite get under its skin the way a novelist like Miriam Toews does.

Ironically, it is when Charles is coming out of a depressive period that he must be watched most closely, for then he is capable of more than suicidal ideation. Then he has energy enough to carry out the act.

Infobytes like that are too textbook, not enough novel. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still an enjoyable read. I’m nitpicking. Mania transforms Charles into the djinn, the Stranger, who exists on a spectrum anywhere from obnoxious to dangerous. Something distresses me about that. He calls depression the Black.

“But you always come out of it,” she reminds him. “Right?”

“So far,” Charles agrees. “But every time I’m so worried I won’t. That I’ll stay there forever. Death is totally not scary in comparison.

Ikr? As ever, manic depression’s collateral damage is enormous.

Yes, Charles is a genius, and he loves his manias. But Charles’s disorder is the gift nobody wants to get given. There is no cure for it, no solution. Either Charles takes his medication and suffers, or he doesn’t and everyone else does. It is colossally, sickeningly, definitively unfair.

It’s very interesting to read stuff by people who love people with bipolar. Sometimes it’s also very hard. The mania especially, is ugly and frequently nasty. I’d be interested in your opinions of that if you read the book.

Tiff and Kevin are right. Her brother will destroy her.

I wish the above wasn’t a possibility when talking about bipolar, but without the right boundaries and support in place, it very much is. Even if there isn’t total destruction, there’s still some horrible attrition. The subplot of romance that winds through the book lightens things and is welcome for it. In all, it held my attention right the way through. Not a remarkable book, but good reading nonetheless. And I liked the offbeat and feelgood aspects.

perfect storm
noun
a particularly violent storm arising from a rare combination of adverse meteorological factors.
an especially bad situation caused by a combination of unfavourable circumstances.

*or just a lazy quotefest?

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