Juliet the Maniac, Juliet Escoria, Melville House, 2019, 316 pp
Juliet Escoria is the current wife of Scott McClanahan, whose novel The Sarah Book I reviewed last. I received both books through my subscription to The Nervous Breakdown Book Club. The Sarah Book had been languishing on my pile of unread TNB books so when I received Juliet the Maniac recently I decided to read the two books back to back. I admit to a bit of voyeurism in wanting to see how these two writers came to be married. Ha! I learned not a thing about that.
Juliet's book is a fictionalized account of her own teenage years. A genre called autofiction has been around since a French author, Serge Dubrovsky, coined the term in reference to his novel, Fils. (ref: Wikipedia.) In her interview on Otherppl, Juliet says that after years of trying to write her story in memoir form, she was finally able to do so in an autofiction format. She does it quite well.
When Juliet was 14 years old, during a period of stress as an honors student aiming for a prestigious college where she intended to study literature, she began to experience hallucinations, panic attacks and insomnia. Then came self-harm and ultimately a suicide attempt. She was diagnosed as bipolar and put on a cocktail of psychiatric drugs.
Possibly because she was only 14 and it was the 1990s, she also began drinking and consuming street drugs. The upshot of all that, after a second suicide attempt, was her parents enrolling her in a "therapeutic boarding school" in a remote area of Northern California.
Juliet came from a middle class Southern California family, not deprived in any way, with loving parents. These parents were so committed to saving her life that they committed her.
For some reason I am drawn to such stories: The Bell Jar, Girl Interrupted, Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls, are a few I have read. Actually I know the reason. I had a bit of a breakdown during my sophomore year in college. I begged my parents to get me to a psychiatrist but my father, for no reason he ever explained, refused. All he would say was that it was dangerous to fool around with someone's mind. That was in the mid-60s.
Somehow I recovered enough to work out my problems as a young college woman on my own, although not in any ways that made my parents happy. All in all though, I feel I've had something like a guardian angel watching over me and here I am.
Juliet's "therapeutic boarding school" used a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy, psych meds and restraint on its patients along with regular schooling and some other weird and questionable techniques. But she managed to "graduate" and return home, then go on to college. She writes about the whole experience with an exquisite realism touched with humor and no self pity. Her intelligence and bravery come shining through her prose.
According to her Otherppl interview, she is able to function in life on a finely-tuned prescription of medications though the fine tuning has put her through its own kind of hell. She now teaches, she has published a collection of poetry, Witch Hunt, and a story collection, Black Cloud. It appears to be a happy occurrence that she and Scott McClanahan found each other.
Her book, Juliet the Maniac, is amazing in my opinion. I hope that the young women who need such books to know they are not alone, find hers.