Writing mental illness is a strange and difficult task, and even harder when the person telling the story is the one whose mind is interpreting the world differently. Ned Vizzini did a pretty good job of keeping it easy to follow when he fictionalized his own experience of being in a psych ward in It's Kind of a Funny Story. And numerous books have looked at it from the outside. But it is a whole nother thing to get inside the head and look at the world of someone who has a very altered perception of reality.
How far do you go? And since so little is really known about mental illness, how much is just stereotypes and semi-fictional tropes? It's a tough line to walk, but if you want your main characters to tell their own stories, you are also going to have to figure out just how unreliable to make these narrators of yours, and how to portray the parts that are creations of their own troubled brains.
In Fell of Dark, both Erik and Thorn have complicated and painful relationships both with their parents and with their realities. There are parts of each of their tellings that are clearly impossible, but there are also things that strongly suggest true and deeply rooted trauma at their cores. The fascinating part in reading this is the constant struggle to tease apart truth from perception in the tangled lines of text, trying to see the world as we would but having only their eyes as instruments.
That, and the fact that we are told that the two will come together at some point, and I couldn't help but keep guessing at how that would happen. There are hints of this possibility or that, but in the end, you don't really see it happen until the last handful of pages.
It makes for a compelling read, but what elevates to a real must-read is the writing. The language is beautiful, and the boys and their stories are made mythic and strangely, heartbreakingly sad and lovely, even in their struggles. Contradictions are everywhere, and acceptance of them seems to settle over narrator and reader alike over the course of the book, where strange becomes real, even further confusing our world and the one that lives in their heads.
It's a book that makes you think, that makes you feel protective of these two, that makes you full of wonder and curiosity about just what is what, and it makes for a wonderful, dreamlike read that is surprisingly quick, yet sticks with you. I can't think that I've read much like it, and I definitely recommend taking this journey into the unknowable.