For obvious reasons, I rarely recommend a book without having read it. I'm choosing to make an exception in the case of NO ONE CARES ABOUT CRAZY PEOPLE, because of the subject matter and because it's written by Ron Powers, one of my favorite authors.
Powers was born in Hannibal, Missouri—the hometown of Mark Twain—and two of his best books were set there: WHITE TOWN DROWSING and TOM AND HUCK DON'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE. He has also written two biographies of Twain: DANGEROUS WATER and MARK TWAIN: A LIFE. His 1991 effort FAR FROM HOME chronicled Life and Loss in Two American Towns; along with his books about Hannibal, it offers evidence that the much lamented woes of working-class America did not begin with the Crash of 2008 or with the Obama administration.
And now Powers has written about the chaos and heartbreak of mental health in America, a subject with which (it turns out) he is all too personally familiar. "This is the book I promised myself I would never write," Powers begins NO ONE CARES ABOUT CRAZY PEOPLE, before warning readers "I hope you do not 'enjoy' this book. I hope you are wounded by it; wounded as I have been in writing it. Wounded to act, to intervene. Only if this happens, and keeps happening until it needs happen no more, can we dare to hope that [all those living] in psychotic suffering are redeemed; that they have not suffered entirely in vain."
Powers' primary focus in NO ONE CARES is the scourge of schizophrenia and the scandal of our response to it. He links the untreated and misunderstood disease to "the accursed demographic of the mad that we call the homeless," a population he claims has become "subject to demonization of a scale and intensity not seen since the Dark Ages. Now the police round them up—from the adolescents just emerging, bewildered, into insanity, to the veterans of madness, who are helpless not just before mental illness but before the injustices that compound it: minority racial status, class disability, crabbed opportunity, inadequate medical care, and family instability. The police round them up for their crimes of survival: for robberies of food; for possession of the illicit drugs used for self-destructive self-medication; for loitering, vagrancy, and street harassment; for bothering noninsane people with their monologues and declarations; for not having homes. Bereft of committed support from any quarter, they live marginal, miserable lives and die early deaths."
I recommend this book even though I have read just fifteen pages of it. I recommend it because it's written by Ron Powers and because, on page 4, he says this:
"Whether locked in asylums or wandering the streets, for centuries those who have been struck by madness have always had their own cruel nomenclature to bear, names intended to separate them out, divide us from them: lunatics, imbeciles, loonies, dips, weirdos, wackos, schizos, psychos, freaks, morons, nutcases, nutjobs, wingnuts, cranks.
The mad one, then, is something between a clown and a demon."
It's my assertion, not that of Ron Powers, that each and every human being is "something between a clown and a demon," and that we alternate, most of us, between those states and/or some combination or other thereof. Crazy people are those among us who are unable sufficiently to control their alternations or to manage their combinations, and who serve, therefore, as a discomfiting reminder to everyone else that they too are potentially mad.
That's my theory, anyway. To find out what Ron Powers thinks, you'll have to read—and you should read—NO ONE CARES ABOUT CRAZY PEOPLE.