Monday, February 2, 2015

Book Review: Crazy Love

A Fair Trade Book

Title: Crazy Love
Author: Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

Author's (children's-stories-focussed) blog:
Date: 1977
Publisher: William Morrow & Company
ISBN: 0-688-03178-1
Length: 192 pages
Quote: “Didn’t Ted’s background give me pause...? No. Seventeen is the time when life is eminently conquerable.”
In this memoir Naylor, best known as a writer of children’s stories, makes a plea for acceptance of insanity as grounds for divorce. Since most states and even most churches now accept insanity as grounds for divorce, who else needs to read this book? Readers of the magazines that printed Naylor’s short pieces, or of novels like The Agony of Alice, The War Between the Boys and the Girls, or The Witch Herself, who have grown up and would like to read what Naylor had to say to adults?
Definitely not children. This is not a children’s book. Marital relations are discussed, not in gross physical detail but with clinical precision, and they do belong in this story; sexual behavior reveals clues in the diagnosis and treatment of psychoses. The rest of the story is about the adult world of business, money, teaching, college textbooks, hospitals, prejudice, and the Cold War. Nothing in Crazy Love would interest a child. This is not a complete autobiography (Naylor’s memoirs of her own career have been published as a separate book), but strictly a memoir of a brief, painful marriage.
The horror of life with “Ted,” as recounted by his ex-wife, does not involve domestic violence. Ted tries to protect his wife from the “They” he imagines stalking the couple. His efforts to defend his loved ones from this “They” may become dangerous, but Ted always means well.
What was it in Ted’s background that should have made his bride, young Phyllis, think twice? That his Italian/Jewish parents were more likely to express emotions, including frank self-appreciation, than Phyllis’s English/German relatives? This cultural difference generated the sort of hostility among in-laws that wasn’t as funny in the real life of this period as it’s made to seem in contemporary comedy. In some ways Phyllis’s relatives seem to be right, although they come across as the kind of bigots of which Archie Bunker was a parody. The cultural difference kept Phyllis from recognizing what a contemporary reader may recognize as important clues to Ted’s diagnosis and treatment.
Ted’s half sister, who died in a mental hospital, was diagnosed as schizophrenic. Ted’s mother was legally sane, but obese, and obsessed with her irritable bowels. After praying for success on the toilet, “she once remarked to Ted that her excrement, miraculously, had no odor.” In 1949 Phyllis mistook this for a cultural characteristic; even today a nineteen-year-old bride could be excused for mistaking it for the kind of eccentricity that was then called “neurotic.” Odorless excrement is, however, neither a miracle nor a neurosis. It is a symptom. While some diseases of the digestive system are characterized by strong, foul odors, others are characterized by a deficiency of the acids and gases that produce normal odors. Sounds as if Ted’s mother has one of the genetic digestive disorders that cause the malabsorption and malnutrition associated with some paranoid-schizophrenic psychoses. The good news is that some of these disorders are curable.
Ted does not have what Freud insisted was “true” schizophrenia. "True" schizophrenics don’t have orgasms; this observation was responsible for Freud’s, and to a much greater extent his followers’, overemphasis on sex. Ted enjoys sex.
His behavior is classic “paranoid-schizophrenia,” a different disease according to Freud, and fits the general description of paranoid-schizophrenic disorders associated with enzyme deficiency. First there is general anxiety and tension, superstitious ritualistic behavior, nightmares and sleep disturbance. Then there is the chronic fear that his food has been poisoned—the recognition that something is badly wrong with Ted’s digestion, which is true. Then the brain really starts to break down, and it becomes impossible for anyone, least of all Ted, to predict what Ted may do next.

People like Ted usually are gluten-intolerant. The good news for the rest of us gluten-intolerant people is that, as Patrick Tracey learned, people like Ted also inherited probably a dozen other genes that interact to produce schizophrenia. A gluten-free diet is part of the treatment that postpones total disability, but not the complete cure for which people once hoped.
Ted’s tragedy is that he developed this disease thirty or forty years before doctors began to have a hope of treating it. Today not all, but some, people like Ted can be helped at least for several years. But, by the time research had worked up to the point where younger people with symptoms like Ted’s could be cured, Ted’s brain would have deteriorated beyond the point at which even a temporary return to sanity would have been likely for him.
Meanwhile Ted’s story illustrates the flaw in the otherwise sound thinking of counsellors like Wayne Dyer or Jay Addams, who believed that the problems people brought into psychologists’ officers could be solved by straight talk and thinking. Many people who consulted psychologists in 1977 could solve their problems with a little straight thinking. But coping with psychosis is not as simple as Addams made it sound in some of his writing. Simple neurological disorders that cause one or two simple, persistent distortions of perception are not psychoses; people do learn to adjust their interpretations of their perceptions to allow for misperceptions like ringing in the ears, “floaters” in the eye, or “pins and needles” when something interferes with blood circulation.  People who have psychoses like Ted’s seldom misperceive the same thing twice, and since the common denominator among all their delusions is anxiety, they can’t just sit back and watch the delusions like a movie (as Lauren Slater, being aware that the medication she used can produce delusions, apparently did).
The young bride Phyllis wants nothing more than to be a good wife to Ted, but she can’t cope with his disease. In the end she leaves him in a hospital, remarries, and becomes Mrs. Naylor, the successful author. For her this seems to be the right solution, yet it remains tragic and continues to give her pain. Knowing that her tragedy was to some extent a matter of timing, that Ted’s total disability probably could at least have been postponed if he’d only been born forty years later than he was, makes the happy ending Crazy Love has for Phyllis—but not for Ted—a sad read.
If Crazy Love had been written more recently, it would probably have had more educational value. As written, it tells us a lot about the history of psychiatry, and a little about the kind of danger signals family members can recognize, and a good deal about why some Christians accept divorce and remarriage.

Crazy Love is not particularly rare; you can find better prices than our bottom-most price online, but if you buy it online here, $5 for the book + $5 for shipping, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor or a charity of her choice gets $1.