Haunted by demons of mental illness that plagued his ancestors, a young man barely out of college finds release from inner torment in cutting himself, leading to 17 years of being a “professional mental patient.” In this mesmeric, dire memoir of his agonizing journey through hell and back, Fitzpatrick takes extraordinary care in re-creating the cerebral maelstrom that brought on the first breakdown at age 23. The middle child of five in an Irish Catholic family that settled in Guilford, Conn., the author was an athletic kid who adored his parents and had a keen desire to please others, yet endured being bullied, first by his relentless older brother, Andy, then by his Skidmore College roommates who routinely doused him in liquids—milk, mustard, juice—when they were all smoking pot. A combination of low self-esteem, social anxiety, and depression over a breakup with a girlfriend precipitated the first cutting incident, leading to the first of many incarcerations in the psychiatric wing of hospitals, shock treatments, “psychotropic cocktails” that increasingly bloated his body, intensive therapy with idiosyncratic doctors, and occasional tender acquaintances with young anorexic women patients. After nearly two decades of spiraling mental illness leading to self-injury, the author was finally able to “recapture his mind” with the help of targeted drugs, therapy, family support, and, perhaps most key, a mission (thanks to Wally Lamb’s encouragement) to write his dark, affecting human story for “the mentally ill voices who don’t ever get to speak, to shout and be heard.” Agent:, Richard Abate. (Sept.)
Fitzpatrick, David. Sharp: A Memoir. Morrow. Aug. 2012. 368p. Illus. ISBN 9780062064028. $25.99. MEMOIR
Fitzpatrick, the son of a middle-class family not without its own torments, matter-of-factly relates the alarming details of his slow, inexorable descent from a beach-loving adolescence into a 20-year addiction to self-injury, or cutting. His long climb back to a life he could live outside of institutions (and the terrible captivity of his own thoughts) provided Fitzpatrick with ample opportunities to experience the benefits and drawbacks of the many therapies he and his desperate family pursued over the terrifying course of his illness. VERDICT In a word: harrowing. Fitzpatrick’s own story pales in comparison to those of some of his fellow patients. Readers will be haunted by these accounts but gratified by the author’s hard-fought detente with the demons that drove him to carve into his own skin.