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Book Review: The Eden Express by Mark Vonnegut

Mark Vonnegut’s The Eden Express: A Memoir of Schizophrenia (1975, reprinted 2002) is a profoundly thoughtful and entertaining account of Vonnegut’s mental unraveling on a beautiful farm outside of Vancouver, British Columbia.

Vonnegut had just graduated from college in 1969 and moved across the country to where he and his friends planned to drop out of corporate America and live the romanticized hippie lifestyle. Soon, however, Vonnegut’s moods began to fluctuate between “something gripping the pit of my stomach” (p. 79) to “this giddiness in my stomach...overwhelmed by the incredible loveliness of the trees and the sky and the moss....” (p. 114), back to a dark mania that exposed the hideous superficiality of life. Was it the mescaline? Days passed and his friends became more alarmed, while Vonnegut was increasingly clumsy on the farm: “something in me knew I would become unable to function, and got me ready by telling me ahead of time that it didn’t matter” (p. 124).

He landed in the hospital, where he convinced himself that this was merely his father’s way of getting him off cigarettes, yet he also observed in the book that “ it turned out the only one who was surprised about my going nuts was myself” (p. 187). When he felt better, he concluded that “going crazy and getting well was just what I needed....This was just the right twist” (p. 217).

The plot twist, however, was that Vonnegut ended up going through another crisis. Then again. Three strikes, and he had run out of material to fuel all the elaborate explains of his hallucinations. He finally realized his illness was biochemical rather than a poetic and important affliction of the enlightened, and that poetry, in actuality, had not helped him to recover at all, while Thorazine did. There was no blame, and mistakes were not the cause of the illness. He gave himself time and space to heal: “There are great insights to be gained from schizophrenia, but remember that they won’t do you or anyone else much good unless you recover” (295).

Vonnegut, the son of famous author Kurt Vonnegut, acknowledged the importance of his family in his recovery, and now works as a pediatrician in Boston, having graduated from Harvard Medical School.

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