Score 92/100 (9.2 out of 10)
Now, hold up, wait a minute... before you think this book is just another compilation of random poems about social events and activism, just know that it isn't. This book of poems actually has a narrative—a story inspired by real-life events. In other words, there's a lot of interesting, page-turning prose in here!
Let's get this off our chests right now: this book is simultaneously incredibly frustrating and incredibly fascinating. On one hand, you can't help but turn the pages to find out what's going to happen next. On the other hand, you dread it and want to throw the book across the room into a wall because of how remarkably frustrating and bone-headed the main character, Jon, is.
Some of the decisions that the character Jon makes are downright moronic and idiotic, and yet you can't help but read on to find out if he finally realizes how moronic and idiotic he is being. Grrrrrr... Jon grinds our gears in a way that few characters have. At the very least he is an enabler who refuses to see the warning signs, red flags, the writing on the wall, the blaring sirens coming from each and every direction shouting: “STOP, YOU FOOL!” Perhaps in the nicest way we can put it, he is a morally gray, albeit unlikable main protagonist. He is not that sympathetic of a character, and yet we still can't help but read more about him? Why? Well, maybe it's because we're gluttons for punishment and want to see if this book ends in something dramatic, violent, or even gory. It really seemed to be leaning that way. We'll get back to it in a minute, but this book features aspects of the mystery and horror genres married to a prose (and poetry) that's mostly about psychiatry and romance, if you can even call it romance.
Keep in mind, this book is a “fictional memoir” but based on actual events. However, for some reason, the author decides to use his whole full name as the character, then provide an epilogue that seems really... outing. The epilogue, which even covers the selection of the title and some of the writing process, seems to contradict the introduction which states that the events are fictitious and the author does not approve of the character's choices. On the contrary, it almost seems like in the end that the author is performing some sort of apologetics—trying to excuse the excusable decisions of the character by blaming them on malpractice, hormonal imbalances, and mental illness. We're just calling it like we see it. Maybe we see it wrong. That probably wasn't the author's intention. Our take isn't intended as definitive or true, just how we interpreted this book based on what's in it. We're being honest: Jon as a character is frustrating, irresponsible, and often downright incompetent, especially for the position/career/occupation that he supposedly holds throughout the book.
We get to see a career therapist of multiple decades get taken for a ride, manipulated like a puppet, and be pulled on a leash from one dog park to the next. It is quite agitating. How does someone with decades of experience working with people with mental health problems get himself manipulated and fooled by a woman with very obvious mental health problems? That would be the equivalent of Garry Kasparov in a serious chess game opening that game with pawn to H4, or getting himself scholar's mated by a club-level player. That's like if Tom Brady took a knee while in the red-zone down by 4 points with 18 seconds left. There are just things that professionals do not and should not do. Like, how bad do you have to be at your job to keep inviting a problem with a client to escalate this badly? Well, there is somewhat of an explanation, but we're trying not to spoil it. That's part of the mystery of the book.
What we can tell you is that the other major character in the book, Kulai, is absolutely frightening and unbelievably menacing. She is, simply, the villain of this book. Yes, we're supposed to kinda feel bad for her. Yes, we're supposed to kinda sympathize with her, appreciate her poetry, and empathize with her feelings/needs for companionship and healing. However, it became very obvious to us very quickly that this woman was one step away from becoming Charles Manson or Jeffrey Dahmer. She clearly uses the sympathy gained regarding the loss of her daughter like a tool. Her thoughts, words, and actions become increasingly obsessive and unsettling. Alarm bells are ringing, and Jon simply keeps dismissing them. In fact, he ends up leading her on and inviting these things. He even allows her to bother him during a family vacation and continue to send her disturbing e-mails containing suggestive images—sorry, images containing beautiful poses and “conservative... negligee”—as always seems to be the case. That kinda sounds like a whole load of BS. Perhaps Jon is interesting as an unreliable narrator in that sense. We just don't trust his take because his narrative doesn't seem to add up.
Rather than just telling her, “NO, THIS NEEDS TO STOP RIGHT NOW” he daintily says things like (to paraphrase), “Please stop doing that” or “Please, I'm feeling uncomfortable” or “thank you for your incredibly beautiful love poem to me.” And that's when we kinda challenge the eventual conclusion of this novel. If these things were really caused by increased testosterone or thrown-off hormone levels because of an unscrupulous, negligent, or incompetent doctor, wouldn't he have pounced on her too? Why is Jon the one always being pursued and pounced on like he's some kind vulnerable gazelle prancing around the Serengeti as hordes of lions, hyenas, cheetahs, and jackals wait to pounce on his delicious near-60-year-old slab of amateur bodybuilding meat?
Wouldn't he have responded aggressively or passionately if his hormones were the way that they were? Why would he, instead, sit back passively and allow things to happen? That doesn't seem like something high levels of free testosterone would make you do. High levels of free testosterone would enhance your masculine, sexual, and aggressive urges. You would pursue, you wouldn't just lie there like a victim and take it like the character Jon does. So that just makes the character Jon's narrative seem even more untrustworthy, unreliable, and suspicious.
At the same time, you do get hints of something not being right with Jon's hormone levels and his head. For instance, he starts having delusions of grandeur such as when he quotes the Bible, inserting himself as “I am” (implying he feels as powerful as God). He states he feels a sense of being on top of the world or manic. He also starts having dreams and thoughts of a sexual nature similar to Kulai's. He then goes on to write this really weird and disturbing poem to Kulai that even makes Kulai—as creepy as she is—weirded out and uncomfortable. In this poem, Jon shares some kind of fantasy about polygamy or prostitution, believing it to be romantic. Even Kulai, as crazy as she is, is like, Jon, what even the F is this?
But we digress. Hormones can make you think and do some weird stuff. If you've ever been on birth control or TRT, you know what we mean. If you don't have someone constantly supervising you, and you let your hormones get really out of whack, you run the risk of making some really irrational decisions.
Well, let's get around the complaining, and get to what's good: this book is tense. It is intense. Even though you may not like Jon as a character, you still might worry about him and want him to change his ways. And if you don't worry about him, you still eagerly wait to see what happens like he's a victim in some slasher movie going down the obviously-dangerous dark basement as you, the audience, shout at him to not go down there.
Kulai will most certainly have you on the edge of your seat. She is a spine-tingling, bone-chilling villain very similar to Desirae from Perfectly Imperfect by Darlene Winston, our “Best Villain” last season. Kulai just seems like a homicide waiting to happen. You're just waiting for the moment when she shows up at Jon's home with a weapon unannounced or breaks a vase, then stabs him with a shard of it during a session. Do any of these things happen? We won't spoil it.
Another thing is that this book is competently written and formatted. Not only are the prose pretty good, but the presentation of the e-mails, text messages, and poems are pretty good. Now, the poems are probably not going to win major awards on their own, but they do support the narrative as both Kulai and Jon share their evolving feelings this way.
This book is definitely worth a read. Check it out on Amazon!