I seem to have snagged Too Bright to Hear Too Loud to See by first time author Juliann Garey hot off the presses – it just came out in hardcover December 26, 2012. As a result you may not have heard much about this book yet. But i say ‘yet’ because this is poised to be one of the break out novels of the year. It was precisely this positive press that made me pick it up. I was not disappointed by the book, however, i was deeply troubled.
The plot of the novel focuses on Hollywood studio executive, Greyson Todd’s descent into madness. Each chapter starts with one session of Greyson’s electroshock treatment, which brings to the fore a past memory of varying significance. As the novel proceeds we discover that he is in fact bipolar and has suffered from this condition for years. When we meet him he has hit rock bottom, abandoning his family and career for a sex and drug filled jaunt around the world that lasts years.
As I mentioned, I found the novel to be rather troubling, but not because of a large portion of it takes place in a mental institution. Instead it is Greyson’s treatment and view of women as he travels from one sexual tourist hotspot to another. In Bangkok he realizes that money, of which he has a lot, can buy him just about any woman/ girl he wants. But his lowest point comes during a visit to Africa where he uses his wealth and therefore power to marry and abandon a widow after setting he up with a good deal of money in African terms. He is cavalier in his sexual engagement with her, almost daring AIDS to come his way. I found the power imbalances in almost of Greyson’s relationships with women to be troubling at best and misogynistic at worst. I don’t know if this is made worse because the novel was written by a woman.
Garey is at her best when writing as a slightly insane movie director balanced precariously on the edge. At times it verges into almost stream of consciousness. There is confusion, erratic jumping around and self flagellation. It all makes for a very realistic telling of someone mingling with insanity. Even Greyson’s sometimes appalling treatment of women fits coherently into the character Garey has so deftly drawn. And it is the plausibility of it that makes it so troubling.
Who would like this book? This book is definitely for an edgier reader. It is for someone who likes contemporary gritty tales and isn’t afraid of getting a little dirty in the process. It would also appeal to fans of behind the scenes tales of Hollywood. Greyson is, after all, a Hollywood mogul of sorts. I would also put it in line with other books set in mental institutions such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Girl, Interupted (which i adored).