The Glass Eye, by Jeannie Vanasco

For such a slim book, this work is hard to pin down. It's labeled "a memoir," but its stream of consciousness format reads almost like poetry, especially given the many repetitions of the name Jeannie/Jeanne and the words eye/i/I. It's self-referential: towards the end of the book, Vanasco starts a graduate program in memoir in which she is writing this very book, and agonizes over how to do so properly. It's psychological: Vanasco is finally diagnosed with severe bipolar disorder well into adulthood. It's biographical: Jeannie is named for her half-sister Jeanne, her father's daughter who died at age sixteen in a car accident but about whom Vanasco knows little, nor much about her father's life before he met her mother when he was about sixty.

Vanasco was eighteen when her father died, her last promise to him being that she would write him a book. He was, according to her, a wonderful father and husband, if at times given to jealousy or irrational fear. Having already developed (but kept hidden) symptoms of mental illness - cutting, hearing voices - her father's death sends Vanasco over the edge. She spent the next ten years grieving him, struggling through jobs, with a few hospital stays when things got really bad. Words and labels hold much power for her, and the refusal of most of her doctors to recognize grief as part of her mental state frustrates her. Vanasco insists that she's just grieving, but crying nearly every day for ten years is not generally considered to be part of a normal grieving process. Which leads to an interesting thought experiment: if Vanasco wasn't bipolar, would she have grieved as heavily? Or if her father had been less than perfect, and she still had bipolar disorder, how would she have dealt with his death then? It does seem that the two feed each other in some way.

The Glass Eye is an intimate look inside a unique brain, and it's easy to get caught up with Vanasco's search for her dead half-sister. There's a lot of white space on these pages but the content is meaty, almost chewable. It rumbles around in your mind once you put it down. It's an arresting read, for all its undefinable qualities.

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