Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Spilt Coffee (Greg Bauder)

The ease of self-publishing ebooks, along with bringing us many interesting books we might not seen otherwise, does create a category of text which it is undoubtedly good for the author to have written and made available, but not necessarily important for you to read unless you have a special interest.

A case in point is Greg Bauder's Spilt Coffee, an autobiographical short novel written from within the perspective of a fifty-ish schizoaffective man who shares a small Vancouver psychiatric boarding house with two other similarly situated men and is tended by a beautiful young Filipina nurse, Virer, on whom all three men fixate ("She was our main desire for living"). Virer's departure for a two-week visit back to the Philippines to attend a family wedding precipitates a crisis in the house. Any change from routine is difficult for the psychologically fragile, but this is more intense than that. The narrator falls back into his delusions, so that in the second half of the narrative it is not always possible to be completely certain what is actually happening. But he has far from the worst of it among the three.

This scenario got me thinking in extra-literary ways. I know nothing about the realities of such a situation, but would it really be sensible to place a dazzling, sensual, sensitive young female nurse alone in a home with three older, depressed, sex-starved men? Would this be done, or is the whole book a fantasy in that respect? Because of course at best the men would fixate unhealthily on this woman and become overly dependent on her in a host of ways; at worst, I wouldn't care to think.

If I'm in charge, I place a no-nonsense male nurse in the house with these guys, or at least a resolutely un-sensual older woman. Because I believe in the reality principle.

Anyway, the book is written with a passable degree of skill; Bauder has a strong grounding in literature and makes a number of references to John Milton, one of his favorite writers. The recurring image of the spilt coffee which gives the book its title is effectively handled. There is considerable testimonial value here, and I could imagine Spilt Coffee being assigned in psychiatric nursing courses.

But if you are interested in a novel on this subject and haven't read Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest yet, that is the way to go. It is true that Kesey was not a mental patient himself, simply an orderly, and that he had an ideological agenda. But he also had the penetration of a major writer. Spilt Coffee is a pleasant, interesting, slightly rough-hewn, and of course authentic read. But One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest will shake you as only a book by a writer in full command of a high level of talent can do. It may be heretical of me to prefer that at a time when "authenticity" is taken to count for so much - but I do.

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