Seth's Reviews > The Eden Express: A Memoir of Insanity

The Eden Express by Mark Vonnegut
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's review
Dec 24, 10

bookshelves: psychology, non-fiction
Read from October 23 to December 23, 2010

** spoiler alert ** This book lacks any literary merit. It is about a young man's descent into schizophrenia and his ultimate pharmacological treatment. While this is a worthwhile topic, I was very disappointed in the quality of the writing. In addition, I was put off by the gratuitous slight the author aimed at his girlfriend at the end. He mentions that it was more difficult for him to leave his favorite pet than part ways with her. (He was mad that she slept with someone else. Very petty, considering how she visited him at the psychiatric hospital and worked hard helping him adjust to life on the outside).

How bad is the writing? Here is the description of how the author, a self-described "hippie" living in a commune in British Columbia during the war in Vietnam, felt after taking a rare shower: "Clean, clean, clean. Feeling good, good, good. Clean me, clean clothes." This hardly lives up to the standards one might expect from a Vonnegut.

Of personal interest to me was the author's extensive commentary on his experience as a religion major at Swarthmore in the 1960s. He says that Swarthmore had essentially two majors: engineering and "Swarthmore." As he elaborates, psychology majors at this small college took the same or similar classes as sociology or religion majors. I once considered accepting an offer of admission there because the school was known for intellectual rigor, but reading this book offered me some much-delayed therapy. For other readers who don't have any particular interest in this school, the Swarthmore focus might grate on the nerves.

I understand that later in life, the author, by now a physician and a graduate of Harvard Medical School, wrote a much better book on the same subject. Thank goodness for that!
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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Edmund Davis-Quinn It's a memoir on madness, not clean prose

message 2: by Seth (new) - rated it 1 star

Seth Edmund wrote: "It's a memoir on madness, not clean prose"

Everyone's entitled to his opinion. Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment could also be characterized as a memoir on madness, but not as "clean prose." Crime and Punishment was a deeply psychological work about insanity. I believe Hemingway marveled that such a terrible writer as Dostoevsky could be so wonderful. How about Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest? I reread my review of The Eden Express and I think it was on target, given the masterpieces of this genre.

message 3: by Claudia (new)

Claudia Putnam I think he was expressing his state of mind at the time; when he is describing his more lucid moments his prose is better. The style is meant to reflect the disorder of his mind.

message 4: by Seth (new) - rated it 1 star

Seth You're right, Claudia!

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