This book is a much needed tale among our sea of others which do not touch on such a difficult subject: mental illness. Granted, its fiction, but all fiction is based on the truths of human experience/emotion/challenge/triumph.
This story tells us about identical twin brothers, Dominick and Thomas. Thomas develops schizophrenia in his mid twenties, while Dominick does not develop mental illness. Its essentially a story of the love between brothers, as well as the complexity and heart breaking challenge that mental illness hoists upon both its recipient as well as their loved ones. And, its a story of the unhealthy dynamics of a family, and how one might face as well as confront, and then choose to grow past these, to become healthier and better themselves.
We learn the trajectory of Thomas and Dominick’s childhood. The abuse (physical and emotional/verbal) and torment their stepfather, Ray put them through. How much pain and damage this caused to both Dominick and Thomas in differing ways. The way in which their mother shrank in turn and did nothing to protect them.
We learn the story of Dominick’s first love, Dessa. The tragedy that befalls them years into their relationship, and that essentially results in Dominick turning away from instead of toward Dessa. She eventually leaves him because of his anger, which is suffocating to her, she says. While she still loves him deeply, she feels as though she cannot breathe around him, so she goes. All while Dominick continues to love her from afar, years following their separation. Knowing he destroyed quite possibly the best relationship and love of his life.
He dates and jumps into commitment with someone else, Joy, who is a complete and utter disaster to say the least. Apart from that, she is merely a placeholder and a means of filling a hole (which ends up failing miserably. Whenever we grab desperately at anyone and anything to fill our holes, we end up more often than not in terrible situations).
And, we learn of the tumultuous and complicated nature of Thomas and Dominick’s relationship. This, ultimately, the overarching theme of the book. One of deep love, as well as one laced with jealousy and competition.
Thomas has a sweetness that Dominick feels he lacks. He is both jealous of this, as well as frustrated by it, and even sometimes capitalizes on such to hurt his brother. Thomas and their mother are “the sweet ones.” Whereas Dominick and his stepfather Ray tend to occupy the roles of “tough guy.” Dominick both uses this as a way of getting back at Thomas, for the hurt, rejection, and exclusion he feels as a result of Thomas and their mothers closeness, as well as a way to sometimes bully Thomas during their childhood. He also repeatedly stands by and says nothing on numerous occasions when Ray, their stepfather, beats up on and emotionally tortures Thomas. Much to Dominick’s later regret.
Dominick struggles with his relationship to his brother. Sometimes looking down on, feeling pity, mortification, even hatred and resentment toward his brother. All while simultaneously, he feels immense pain for his brothers own pain, a fierce sense of loyalty towards his brother, as well as a deep attachment to and much love for Thomas. We see this made obvious throughout many of the scenes of their childhood and lives.
Its a beautiful story. One of the raw pain a person experiences on loving someone you cannot actually help. Its a story of the mistakes made in families, and the ache and regret this can leave us with. Of the marks these mistakes can leave on our hearts and psyches. Its a story of the challenge and heartbreak of mental illness.
The lens given to the reader of Thomas that, to me, can very much assist in how misunderstood those with mental illness tend to be in our culture. That they are far more complex than just “crazy.” That plenty of people with mental illness are in fact, tender hearted, quite intelligent in certain ways, loving, and yearning for the same things the rest of us are (a happy life, close relationships, to be heard and understood, to feel seen).
This book is also a story of forgiveness, as well as seeking growth and insight in order to progress, move forward, and live ones best life.
The movement and character shifts, as well as emotional growth that Dominick develops within the final 1/4 of the book is inspiring and emotionally moving. Realizing and then coming to own the cruelty with which he treated Thomas as a child. That both he and their stepfather Ray were deeply harmful, because they were jealous of the love and close connection Thomas and Dominick’s mother shared- so they acted out. Dominick even going so far as to call his step father out on it, which is a great scene.
And, that Dessa was right to leave when she did. That much like Dominick has experienced with his stepfather Ray, as well as in moments with Thomas, she couldn’t breathe. She may love, even deeply, but that she had to leave to save herself. He finally gets it.
And on these realizations and epiphanies, the tables finally begin to turn for Dominick. He can finally grow toward being someone who is healthy.
This is a great book. A very worthwhile read for any and everyone. To start reading it yourself, here is the link to grab a copy!