Yesterday, while on the train, I mentioned this book and my friend immediately asked for the title. He was animated by the topic and asked me how I had enjoyed the book. My honest response was that I would never had chosen to read this book and while I don’t feel that it was a loss to have read it, it also would have not have been a loss to have never heard of it. While reading, I often felt that plot points could have been made more concisely and the narrative told more directly. I generally enjoy non-linear works but in the case of The Man Who Walked Away, I didn’t feel there was much added by the jumping style of narrative. One thing, however, that did strike me, and apparently my co-writers this week, was the beautiful language that Casey uses. I compiled just a few of my highlights below. Some I don’t really have commentary on but I share them because they seem, to me, to be pockets of pure wisdom and insight into the human mind, whether plagued with a disorder or disorder free. While this book is far from a favorite, there are many opportunities to write an analysis on the small but highly influential nuggets of insight therein contained. I don’t feel I gained much from the chapter in Mad Travelers but reading what Tissie wrote about Albert in Albert’s voice is interesting (end of the book).
Albert would say, “the song of his body walking was a silky mist” (4)
“wherever he walked, he was filled with a wonder so fierce it was as if he were being burned alive from its astonishing beauty” (5)
“He wants to play the way that man walked; even as he was walking, it was as if he had arrived” (79)
Insights or descriptions by and of patients at the asylum
The veteran – “he is a man like any other, thinking things he wishes he weren’t thinking” (86). I like this quotation because I agree that we are often thinking things we wish we weren’t thinking, plagued by our pasts, fears, prejudices, etc. I think what makes this habit pathological is what makes anything pathological, the fact that it hinders your ability to go about your normal life. In this case, that those thoughts become obsessions and don’t allow you to move past them.
“They spoke to one another the same way this woman and Walter did, confident the other wouldn’t disappear;” (93). There is a comfort in knowing that one can be themselves, flaws and all, around at least some people in their life. The patients are aware that they are in an asylum and are also aware of what the others around them are there for, including their fears and likes. While they may not always like one another or get along, it is an environment where they fear minimally, in comparison to the general world, to be themselves. The patients also understand the asylum as their home and expect that those who live there will remain there indefinitely. Any addition or change to the number of patients creates an imbalance that needs to be addressed.
“Entering into time is like squeezing through a too-small door” (94) – Fantastic way to describe Albert trying to accommodate to the life of a “normal” person.
“There had once been so much love. How could he have forgotten it for so long? It hadn’t disappeared; it had only gone into hiding” (109) Albert remembering his past relationship with father that his conscious mind hid.
Ponderings that stuck out to me
“What is the story of my invisible life” – describe scenario (69)
“Albert is astonished by how much more to the world there is than the house built to keep it out.” 225
Lastly, I really enjoy the way in which the doctor’s character views his role in the asylum and in his field. There is something gentle and poetic about his worldview in regard to his patients; “The same as with every new patient – inside, somewhere, waiting to be discovered: beautiful, intricate, mechanisms” (76). On page 70 the Doctor “feels once again the buoying optimism of the wind. His work doesn’t require of him that he make a perfect discovery…He needs to listen to the words.”
In thinking of Albert, the Doctor thinks, “If the man had lived then [Middle Ages], he might very well have been considered a spiritual pilgrim, but he didn’t, and so he is patient” (124). I always wonder how much doctors think about the development of pathologized conditions in history. I think it would require a sincere and thoughtful process to consider why a patient’s symptoms are considered problematic today but may have been/may be perfectly acceptable in other circumstances.
“Buckle me. That’s all anyone ever wants, really, the Doctor thinks…To be contained. To be given shape by the constraints of a narrative” (185). This idea is reoccurring in the book, not just in this language but also when Albert wishes to only be brought back when he walks away. I think it says a lot about the human nature of many of wanting to be part of something stable and predictable. A very good paper could be written about this that could even cite a toddler’s routine as an example of humans thriving within contained parameters.
The two quotations, “happy families are all alike; every unhappy family in unhappy in its own way” (126) and “It has more to do with the story the patient tells as a means of achieving peace. The problem is not that Albert’s story of his life is happy or unhappy; it is that it is invisible to him” (127) also speak to themes throughout the book. As usual, I have written too much so maybe someone who was interested in these themes could comment on them.