(Not) Alone by Tyler Wittkofsky (Book Review)
Rating: 5/5 — It’s mental how good this is.
This book perplexes me, but in a good way. Emotions run high and low with every turn of the page. It is a fictional novel but, yet, it rings true to the human soul. It is based on the experiences of a fictional character but, yet, we find reflections of ourselves through his disfunction. I’m not even sure which genre it really fits into. Fictional mental health, shrink biography slash feel good novel?
Look, all this is just a lengthy way of saying that, in its peculiarity and rarity, I loved this novel. In declaring my love for it, I must also admit that I have never read a book of this particular genre but, whatever it is, I’m now keen to explore it even more. Henry, the main protagonist of the novel, is a reflection of all of us. Going through life’s unceasing pace towards the grave, always flashing a smile on the outside, whilst battling his inner demons on the inside. His rise, and fall, and rise again, is essentially the human journey condensed into 250 pages full of emotional roller coasters, broken relationships, mended friendships and the final, illuminating message for everyone going through mental health struggles that, in the end, you will win.
A vulnerable but relatable protagonist
Henry Hovishky is man beset by mental issues, none of them his own fault or what he wanted out of life. The list of issues assaulting the poor man reads like a who’s who of mental illnesses, and you feel for Henry as he battles the unseen forces fighting to tear him apart from the inside out. His raw emotions, whether it be anger or sadness, or the mechanisms he adopts in order to deal with his unwanted issues, from taking to the bottle to popping some pills to chase the pain away.
No matter what pain he faces, his journey of pain and pleasure, highs and lows, joy and despair are human emotions, trials and tribulations. Henry is incredibly relatable as a human being, possibly the most relatable protagonist I’ve read in awhile. His happiness was my happiness. His pain was my pain. His friends were my friends. His enemies were my enemies. Most importantly of all, his victory over mental illness was my victory as well.
Relatable relationships and reflective events
It is not only Henry who is relatable on the character and human front, but his friends, family and the relationships he shares with others are just as reminiscent and reflective of the bonds that we share with our own relatives and friends. The way that his friends and family care for him, the love and tenderness shown as they help him grapple with his inner demons struck a deep cord with me, as it mirrors my own relationship with friends and families as they travelled with me up the steep mountains and through the darkest valleys of my own turbulent and emotional teen and young adult years.
Tyler’s writing style lends itself well to conveying emotion without fluffing with too many words. Simple, short, to the point. It’s rare these days to find novels that use shorter sentences, and even shorter words. It’s even rarer that any of those books actually find success in the uber-grammar elite world of books covering serious topics, such as mental illness, but Tyler really hit it out of the park with ‘(Not) Alone’. The simpler style of writing conveys the warmth and love shown by Henry’s closest relatives and friends, which really leaps out of the page and gives you a nice, big warm hug.
A final triumphant message
Finally, the novel really drives home the fact that mental illness is serious business. So serious that Henry had to resort to so many different avenues and methods in order to escape it’s clutches. He was trying to find the exit door from rationality and live life as a raving lunatic before dropping straight into the grave, which would be a sad end for such a brave soul like Henry.
However, thankfully, this was not the end to be for Henry. The end pages of the book reads like a fairytale ending which, with a topic as toxic and heavy as mental illness, is not a bad thing in and of itself! The mature manner in which he confronted his inner demons, accepting gracefully that he will face mental health battles as long as he lives and even looking forward to the challenge of putting his demons to rest, drives home two key points for me. Firstly, that every human being, those assailed with mental health issues and those that aren’t, are blessed with an inner strength that can carry us through the difficult times. Secondly, despite that inner strength, you will never be able to battle those demons yourselves. It requires the help of friends and family, an understanding of your own strengths and weaknesses as well as the humility to understand when to fight or when to lean on your support network, that will really help you overcome trials, in both the good and bad times.
Repeating what I said above, this book perplexes me. However, the mystery of Henry Hovishky unravels well with each turn of the page. You find yourself rooting for him to overcome his inner demons, to find solace in the midst of the tumultuous sea that is his ravaged mind and to find peace where he has felt none since the beginning of time.
Highly recommend and I look forward to reading more of Tyler’s works in the near future.