There are characters you “approve of” or admire as an element of the craft, there are characters you’d marvel at if they were ever real, there are characters who become human. And then there are those characters that you identify with, whether this damns you or not. Craig Gilner, the fifteen-year-old protagonist of It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini is one of those damning characters. Craig’s a wonderful guy. He’s young, he listlessly overachieves, and he’s got depression. One night, it’s all too much, and Craig nearly kills himself.
“I don’t know how much of it is really chemical. Sometimes I just think depression’s one way of coping with the world. Like, some people get drunk, some people do drugs, some people get depressed. Because there’s so much stuff out there that you have to do something to deal with it.”
It’s a funny novel. Which is not to say that it mocks or ridicules depression. It’s just that Craig knows some things are just funny. Craig lets himself laugh. He doesn’t make fun of depression or the other patients in the psychiatric hospital he checks himself into; some things are just really weird about his situation, and he’s smart enough and witty enough to notice that.
“You’re going to be fine, ishkabibbles,” she says. I look at what she’s typing on the screen. Under “reason for admission,” she puts SUICIDAL IDEATION. That would be a good band name, I think.
I like how there’s no attempt to pinpoint a singular “cause” for the depression, and even the sharing of his symptoms didn’t ever feel self-conscious in the revelation. Even his childhood, or the narration of the days leading to his admission, it was never pointed out–explicitly or otherwise–that Hey, this is what’s wrong with me. In a way, it makes depression concrete for readers all over. And, more importantly for this reader, it made me go Yes, I know exactly what you mean.
“I didn’t want to wake up. I was having a much better time asleep. And that’s really sad. It was almost like a reverse nightmare, like when you wake up from a nightmare you’re so relieved. I woke up into a nightmare.”
There has to be a comparison between this novel and the other novels/memoirs on depression that I’ve read. Off the top of my head: Prozac Nation, which was crap. Heh. [Before I get lynched for this, I have read the memoir twice, and each time I was struck by how unreal it was. How selfish. Yes, selfishness is a significant thing with her depression, but–and this is a drunken theory–the memoir was something non-depressives would laud for “vivid, unflinching” writing. I’ve spoken to about three or four depressives about the memoir. They thought it was crap too.] And then there’s The Beast by Tracy Thompson, which my mother found for me in a BookSale, and I keep turning to it whenever things are bleak and hopeless and dark and Meh. That‘s the kind of novel that makes you want to hunt down the author and personally thank her for sharing her story—it’s not meant to inspire, just show, This is how it is. I’ll always love Thompson best; it’s helped me so much. But It’s Kind of a Funny Story holds a special place now. Somewhere in the deep recesses of my black, black heart.
Actually, this is the highest praise I can think of: C’mere, Craig, lemme give you a hug.
We lock eyes. I’m waiting for her to say something profound–I always am, even though it’ll never happen. I’m waiting for her to say “Craig, what you need to do is X” and for the Shift to occur. I want there to be a Shift so bad. I want to feel my brain slide back into the slot it was meant to be in, rest there the way it did before the fall of last year, back when I was young, and witty, and my teachers said I had incredible promise, and I had incredible promise, and I spoke up in class because I was excited and smart about the world. I want the Shift so bad. I’m waiting for the phrase that will invoke it. It’ll be like a miracle within my life. But is Dr. Minerva a miracle worker? No. She’s a thin, tan lady from Greece with red lipstick.
Good book. It’s up there with Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower, me thinks. It’s definitely up there somewhere. [Oh, and since I just watched the movie Kick-Ass last night, I’m definitely seeing some echoes. That’s a good thing.]