Oct 14

The Eden Express: A Memoir of Insanity

Posted by Soliloquy in Adults with disabilities | Mental Illness

“Most diseases can be separated from one’s self … schizophrenia is something we are.” So begins Mark Vonnegut’s depiction of his descent into, and eventual emergence from, mental illness. As a recent college graduate, self-avowed hippie, and son of a counterculture hero, Vonnegut begins to experience increasingly delusional thinking, suicidal thoughts, and physical incapacity. In February 1971 he is committed to a psychiatric hospital.

Read more about The Eden Express: A Memoir of Insanity.

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5 Responses

  • Bill R. Moore says:

    Review by Bill R. Moore for The Eden Express: A Memoir of Insanity
    I’ll be honest with you: I read Mark Vonnegut’s book because he is Kurt Vonnegut’s son. The elder Mr. Vonnegut mentions it one of his books (I don’t remember which one, but I’m pretty sure it’s Fates Worse Than Death, or maybe Timequake), and I probably would never have picked it up (or even heard of it) otherwise. That said, it is a fascinating and very delightful book, full of insight and well worth reading. Not many books tackle the admittedly difficult issue of describing insanity from the inside out (i.e., in the form of a first-person recollection), and this book is truly useful for those looking for such a work. It’s hard to imagine anyone doing it better. I can see this as a practical “must read” for medical professionals looking to identify more closely with their patients, or for anyone who just wants a more personal account of the subject matter than that often offered by dry, sterile medical textbooks. Mark’s writing style is quite good, but also highly personal. He doesn’t seem aloof or like somebody with whom we can’t identify (as many people who have experienced mental illnesses inevitably do): he seems like just one of us. The emotions and problems he was going through are certainly things that many of us can relate to (especially those of us who lived through the times that the the book describes) – although the cause for his schizophrenia was never, of course, fully discovered, a lot of things, as Mark says, “happened all at once”: his steady girlfriend cheating on him, his parents breaking up, his father becoming famous. Although Mark’s writing style is nothing like his father’s, the two do share a similar sense of humor. This, coupled with the delightfully personal aspect of the prose, makes this a great read for those interested in its subject matter. Reccommended.

  • R. Wallace says:

    Review by R. Wallace for The Eden Express: A Memoir of Insanity
    Mark Vonnegut went through three severe schizophrenic episodes in the early ’70’s, yet is able to maintain a sense of humor about what befell him. At that time, in his early 20’s, he was going through his hippie phase, living with friends on a farm in Canada. Everyone, including Vonnegut, seemed to think what hit him was the result of oppressive society, as explained by the silly writings of ain’t-no-mental-illness Thomas Szasz and the even sillier ones of mental-illness-can-be-a-good-thing R.D. Laing. Yet it turns out he was sufferering from a biochemical disorder, possibly brought on my malnutrition. What brought him back to reality was commitment to a mental hospital and some Thorazine, followed by some rather massive doses of vitamins and a better diet. I’ve never quite read anything like this. His descriptions of how schizophrenia crept up on him and how he thought there was nothing wrong with him, even when he was babbling gibberish, not eating and sleeping for days, are priceless. Although written in 1975, it is still relevant today, and very much worth reading.

  • Avery Z. Conner says:

    Review by Avery Z. Conner for The Eden Express: A Memoir of Insanity
    There are only a handful of memoirs about schizophrenia, and this book and “The Quiet Room” are probably the best ones available. The author apparently inherited his father’s excellent writing and storytelling abilities, as this is an engaging and insightful description of life in the 1960s and the descent into and emergence from schizophrenia. The description of the illness alone makes the book worth reading, and is in some ways reminiscent of “Darkness Visible” and “The Bell Jar”. The book is also quite humorous. Highly recommended. Avery Z. Conner, author of “Fevers of the Mind”.

  • Anonymous says:

    Review by for The Eden Express: A Memoir of Insanity
    Two years ago I was diagnosed with schizophrenia, and have since been put on medication and fully recovered. My therapist suggested that I read Mark Vonnegut’s telling of the descent into schizophrenia. I’ve read other accounts of schizophrenia, but Mark’s definitely takes the cake in terms of realism. I’m not even sure if I can finish the book, the book is so unsettling for me. If someone you care about has schizophrenia, read this book, it will help you understand what this disease does.

  • Robert J. Crawford says:

    Review by Robert J. Crawford for The Eden Express: A Memoir of Insanity
    This is a pretty scary look into the mind of a schizophrenic, from his shakily maintained environment as a late 1960s hippie to his complete psychotic breakdown. It is the worst possible thing you could imagine happening to your child I think, a waking nightmare: Vonnegut describes, with startling talent, his visions. Many of them are remarkable, from a face coming towards him until he is lost in one of its pores, to intimate interactions with angels, while resurfacing in reality every so often. Not only is the horror and lack of control brought to life, but so is the beauty and untapped potential of the human mind, such as his recitation of Moby Dick from memory.

    While many of the reviewers scorn the author as a silly naif, I find him sympathetic and brilliant, indeed courageous to explore and expose himself in this way. In the process, he debunks a lot of what was common talk of the period, such as the society and not the individual being “sick” or the total freedom that he thought he could find. Thus, it is a lament on the illusions of the time and about growing up, issues that many critics of the 1960s would do beter to acknowledge. I was also a Vonnegut fan, so the inights into his family interested me.

    It is but one window, of course, into a horrible state of existence. Recommended.

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