Straightjacket by Meredith Towbin
My Review: 5 Stars
This was one of my very favourite kinds of books: the kind where the author never tells you what is really the truth and it all comes down to a matter of individual belief. Essentially: is Caleb an angel or is he ‘crazy’? You decide.
I must admit that when I first started reading it, I worried about what I was in for, because of the depiction of Heaven in the first couple pages. Then as I read on and realised what was happening, I found myself thinking it was just so clever, and I’m so glad I carried on. If anyone else picks up this book and thinks something similar, perhaps because of their personal religious beliefs, I would urge them to keep going, because this is not the sort of book that sets out to offend anyone’s personal faith. If anything, I think it encourages it – but equally, it is not preachy in any way. It just…makes you think. And feel.
In a nutshell, Anna finds herself in a mental institution and falls in love with a fellow patient, Caleb, who insists he is an angel sent to save her from her own self-hate. The doctors all think he suffers from delusions and catatonia and keep pressing him to take medication for it, but Caleb says they aren’t delusions; they are the times when he slips back to where he came from, Heaven, and speaks to his angelic guide about his mission to help Anna learn to love herself. I don’t want to give any more of the story away, because when it hits the halfway point, things take an unexpected turn, which is one of the things I loved so much about this book.
I also loved the characters. They became real for me and I got emotionally attached to them very quickly. I adored Caleb and completely understood why Anna was so quickly swept away by him. I appreciate that while he was good-looking, the emphasis in this book was on what a beautiful person he was inside. He was also intriguing, and that formed the ‘mystery’ of this book, which kept me reading every line.
The language was beautiful and the emotions were real. I’ll admit I cried through parts of it. One reason this book resonated so much with me is that I am bipolar myself, along with other related conditions. I’m also a writer, and I get all my writing done when my moods are ‘high’, much like Caleb’s artwork in this book. I understood why Caleb didn’t want to take the medication. I understood the descriptions of how it deadened him and changed who he was, took away all his drive and passion. As a teenager, I was on anti-depressants for 3 years to treat anxiety and Tourette Syndrome and it destroyed everything that I was until I finally made the decision to come off the drugs – and it didn’t ultimately help the problems, either. I think this book did a brilliant job of portraying that, which was one of the things that made me feel so emotional.
I liked lines such as, ‘Who am I to say you aren’t really an angel?’ and something to the effect of, ‘Whether he was an angel or not, it didn’t matter,’ and, ‘I love you – that’s the only thing you need to know about me.’ I highlighted quite a lot. I thought it was a beautiful idea, that someone as broken Caleb possibly was (you never do know if he’s an angel or not) is still loveable, because under it all, he was such a good person – and that really is all you need to know about him. It was a deeply sympathetic view and I appreciate the author expressing it. I also loved the meaning of the book’s title, even if it does irk me that it’s spelt wrong (it should be ‘straitjacket’).
I also like what it says about belief…because really, who are we to say what is real and what is not? People have all kinds of beliefs and the very nature of belief is that it’s something you personally feel, but it can’t be proven wrong or right. And if someone says they’re really an angel, but they’re not harming anyone…well, you might not believe it, but who cares? Does that mean they need to be locked up and drugged out of something that brings them peace? Who’s to say what is truth and what is delusion, in such circumstances? Those are the sorts of thoughts that passed through my head as I read this.
So for me, this was a very meaningful book that I can easily see myself rereading one day, and one I would recommend to friends. I am very thankful to the author for giving me a free copy, and I am very happy to say that my honest opinion is that this book is incredible.