Summary of “Mental” by Marie K Johnston

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“Mental,” a tongue-in-cheek title about one woman’s mission to triumph over incest, is an 85,000 word novel with a surprising amount of humor in it.

On the surface, this novel is about identical twins, Lilly and Eve, as Eve finishes college early to teach high school English. Eve then proceeds to have a total nervous breakdown and can’t figure out why. Lilly, the primary narrator, goes through the events of Eve’s life one by one, by sneaking reads in Eve’s journal, as she secretly pens this story for a college workshop class–trying to figure out which event(s) caused the nervous breakdown. Eve processes her current life experiences with friends, a serious boyfriend and her suicidal feelings after quitting her perfect teaching position, as a secondary narrator, once she is diagnosed with a mental illness and becomes determined to understand its cause. This is a positive novel about personal transformation.

My characters are in college or recent graduates, and the bulk of the present tense setting of my novel is a large and entertaining house party to lighten the mood. Lilly never learns about Eve’s incest experience, but she is still able to sense when the audience needs some comic relief throughout this tale. None of Eve’s recovered memories of her incest experience are told graphically or distastefully. Eve finds refuge in Nature often, as well, communing with the Guadalupe River, the moon, a field, the night sky, the sun, and more. Eve is in love for most of the novel, too. All of these devices exist in the story so that Eve has the inner reserves to remember what happened to her and then work through it.

Eve rediscovers certain truths about herself and her life–namely, that love and togetherness are the most important aspects to a successful life. And, that no matter what happened to her, Eve’s capacity to love hasn’t been broken like she had feared. The novel ends with an unforgettable scene where Eve gets lasting advice from an old hippie on how to create a happy life after he releases her from an obstacle in a river.

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