A bipo­lar love story

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Reads - Review by D.L. PHILIPS star2@thes­tar.com.my

THE most apt de­scrip­tion of Pa­trick Downes’ Ten Miles One Way is that it’s an ar­du­ous read – not be­cause of his prose but be­cause of the sub­ject.

The Amer­i­can au­thor’s third book takes you on a long jour­ney, but it’s one you’ll be glad to make.

It fol­lows a girl named Nest, who is bipo­lar, and her on again-off again boyfriend Q, as they take a 10-mile walk across town. We first meet the cou­ple in a hos­pi­tal after she’s wrecked their car. Q be­gins writ­ing down any­thing he can re­mem­ber from their trek but that’s just half of the walk be­cause he doesn’t know how they got home.

It’s a short book, just 208 pages, but be­cause it’s di­vided into a chap­ter for each mile they tra­verse, Ten

Miles One Way feels like a longer book.

Q’s thoughts ap­pear in one print style and the rec­ol­lec­tions of Nest in an­other. But you al­ways know when you’re read­ing Nest, any­way: her words shud­der and stut­ter across the page like her thoughts. Sen­tences stream at you but stop abruptly, un­fin­ished.

She de­scribes her con­di­tion, say­ing she feels a Chi­maera within her, a myth­i­cal three-headed, fire­breath­ing beast with the heads of a lion, goat and snake and their var­i­ous parts mak­ing up its body.

The crea­ture causes Nest to rage when it takes over. To si­lence its vi­o­lence, she walks to the point of ex­haus­tion, un­til her thoughts once again are only hers. It’s a trick she learned from her fa­ther, who him­self ex­pe­ri­ences an emo­tional state he calls the Angers, which pos­sesses his body in the form of a Mino­taur, an­other myth­i­cal mon­ster, this one part man and part bull.

As Nest and Q walk, Downes sprin­kles the sto­ries she tells Q with tit­bits from the real world, of cel­e­brated Scot­tish pedes­trian Robert Bar­clay Al­lardice and of Dave Kunst, the first per­son in­de­pen­dently ver­i­fied as hav­ing walked around the world. She also tells him juicy de­tails of their town’s past and tall tales of se­rial killers who rent ho­tel rooms in se­cret.

Q lets us know that the walk he’s writ­ing about hap­pened three years ago, when they were 17. By that age, he’d known Nest for four years. Nest was the first girl he’d thought was beau­ti­ful – and in­fu­ri­at­ing. Specif­i­cally, be­cause she’d ini­tially told him her name was spelled with a silent “p”, like in pneu­matic and he’d be­lieved her. Nest found his gulli­bil­ity amus­ing at the time.

Q re­minds me of my own fa­ther and his sib­lings, who loved their mother in spite of her per­son­al­ity swings. I never knew my pa­ter­nal grand­mother but I’m told she was prob­a­bly bipo­lar. Sto­ries of her abound in my fam­ily, of when she was con­vivial, sparkling, and the life of any party; and of the times when she’d lock her­self in her room and wouldn’t be seen for days.

The el­der sib­lings would keep what was hap­pen­ing from the 1. younger ones. “Mummy can’t play right now. She’s rest­ing.” Then, as 2. sud­denly as it be­gan, Gran would be back to be­ing her­self, re­turn­ing to liv­ing and lov­ing life and cher­ish­ing her fam­ily once again.

Ther­apy wasn’t an op­tion back then, as any men­tal health is­sue meant you were crazy. For Nest, how­ever, we learn that her par­ents have in­deed taken her to sev­eral ther­a­pists, with vary­ing re­sults. But it’s her fa­ther’s lesson, after he finds his young daugh­ter un­able to sleep, that has been the most suc­cess­ful.

Ten Miles One Way is re­ally the story of a men­tal break­down, but it’s a story about love too. Q truly loves Nest and is in love with her. His un­con­di­tional sup­port and strong, silent type be­hav­iour shows that the best part of a re­la­tion­ship some­times isn’t about try­ing to fix the other per­son. It’s about lis­ten­ing to what they’re say­ing without judge­ment.

Ten Miles One Way Au­thor: Pa­trick Downes

Pub­lisher: Philomel Books, young adult fic­tion

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