Saturday, March 2, 2013

Solo Pass by Ronald De Feo

TITLE: Solo Pass
AUTHOR: Ronald De Feo
PUBLISHER/YEAR: Other Press/March 5, 2013
SOURCE: For Review from Publisher via Netgalley 

Goodreads / Publisher's Website

Solo Pass is interesting territory for me. Typically, I shy away from psychological contemporaries, so I don't have much to compare this one to. Ronald De Feo has an interesting premise, a man is preparing for his first solo day trip out of a mental institution in New York City. It takes a look at what exactly is normal and what's insane through this one man's at times twisted logic. I'm just not sure how well it was executed. These are some pretty deep questions and I'm just not sure if Solo Pass covers them. 

This was definitely a quick read at only 199 pages and I found myself breezing through it. But here's the thing, I was left asking myself why at the end of it. As in, why did I read it so quickly, what was it all about? I feel like my mind wanted to add meaning to the story that just wasn't there. It would have made an excellent short story, it was interesting, but I just don't think it delved deep enough into the protagonist's psyche to warrant it being a novel. 

I did love that this a book narrated by probably the definition of an unreliable narrator. It was interesting to pick apart what he was saying, what was rational, what was rational only to him and what were the things he was changing in his own mind to make himself feel "normal." 

I mean there's also the question raised of what is normal. Is it normal if you seem normal despite what's going on underneath? Is everybody maybe a little crazy by this definition? These questions are so tied up with whether or not we believe the narrator, it's interesting. That was the major draw for me with this book. Looking at these questions and thinking them through. So much interesting fodder and I think it would probably help to know more about mental illness. But like I said, I don't think these questions were really examined deeply enough. I did like that De Feo uses very dark humour to look at them. The narrator's mind works in a way that makes you shake your head at the absurdity more than laugh out loud, but I love black humour and satire in all forms, so I think it kind of worked for the subject matter.Essentially as the narrator is getting ready to leave the hospital alone for the first time in months, he has to confront his own sanity. He wants to fit into the normal world, but isn't sure if he ever can again or maybe he never did. 

A lot of the action centers around our narrator's hatred of his former psychologist Prodski, who may or may not have broken up the narrator's marriage. This subplot could also have gone deeper. It ties into the questions surrounding sanity and normalcy, but in the end it feels a little anticlimactic. Like, it could have just not been in the book and I don't think it would have hurt the plot or themes at all. Alternatively, if it too had dug a little deeper it could have provided further insight into the narrator's mind and reasoning. 

I liked Solo Pass and I really do think it's a valiant effort by second time author De Feo. I just think that it could have been a great short story. As it is, I liked it, but there was just something lacking. It didn't quite grab me as I hoped. I would recommend this if you're looking for a book that explores mental illness and what it means exactly to be normal.

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