Title: Twenty-Four Shadows
Author: Tanya J. Peterson
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Publisher: Apprentice House
Release Date: May 1, 2016
Pages: 394 pages
About the Book:
In her eye-opening and heartrending fourth novel, award winning author Tanya J. Peterson takes us inside the anguished mind of Isaac Bittman-an average family man whose mysterious and progressively violent mood swings, many of which he cannot remember, begin to unravel the lives of those closest to him. After a series of bizarre encounters, including losing his job and waking up half-dead in the wilds of Idaho, he begins treatment at a revolutionary mental health facility, where the childhood trauma he’s repressed for decades leads to revelations that his personality has splintered into twenty-four shadows, or “alters.” The novel intricately weaves together Isaac’s internal angst and his wife and best friend’s struggles to retain both a private and public semblance of normalcy. Stark and realistically rendered, Twenty-Four Shadows delves into the thought processes and erratic habits of a regular man dealing with life-altering mental illness, providing an empathetic, insightful glimpse into a misunderstood and often stereotyped condition.
All I knew about dissociative identity disorder (formerly called multiple personality disorder) before reading Twenty-Four Shadows was what I had seen in the movies (Sybil, The Three Faces of Eve, Voices Within: The Lives of Truddi Chase). The concept was to me, I’m sorry to say, almost horror movie-like (can you say Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde?)
Fortunately, Tanya J. Peterson knows how to paint a picture of a person with mental illness so that you feel like you are in their head with them. I thoroughly appreciated the other two books of hers that I have read (see my reviews of Leave of Absence and My Life in a Nutshell). Twenty-Four Shadows is much the same.
Let me start by saying that this was not an easy book for me to read. It’s a very emotional read, since Isaac, the main character, is understandably freaked out by the time he is losing and strange events that keep occurring. In the beginning his wife, Reese, thinks Isaac is moody and that he is lying when he says he doesn’t remember what he did or said.
Isaac disappears for nine days. When he comes to, he is in the hospital with multiple self-induced stab wounds. He is told that he traveled all the way to Idaho from his home in Portland, Oregon. After some interview questions with a psychiatrist, Isaac is given the diagnosis of DID (dissociative identity disorder). He is told that the trip he took was a dissociative fugue. The doctor tells him:
The ‘dissociative’ part means that you weren’t aware of what you were doing. You were detached from yourself and didn’t even realize it…. The ‘fugue’ part means that you traveled away from home.
Isaac begins treatment at an outpatient facility. As his alters begin to emerge, Isaac feels for a bit like I think most of us with mental illness feel when we start on the path to healing. The situation seems to worsen instead of improving.
Isaac and I have something in common. At times when he is stressed and doesn’t dissociate, he instead feels like he is walking through a surreal world and that he, himself, might not be real. I, too, have experienced these feelings. The doctor tells Isaac:
It sounds like you experienced what we call depersonalization and derealization. Both can happen with dissociative disorders, anxiety disorders, or on their own. Depersonalization just means that you don’t feel like you, you’re detached from your normal sense of self. Derealization means that the world around you doesn’t seem real. You can experience them both together or one at a time.
There is so much to be learned from this book and so much hope to be had for those who are dealing with DID or living with or caring for someone with the disorder. I applaud Tanya J. Peterson for shedding light on new interpretations as well as new treatments, while still personalizing the illness.
My only complaint, and it is a small one, is how accepting everyone around him seems to be of Isaac’s disorder, once it is brought to light. I was especially concerned by how well Isaac’s wife, Reese handled his alters and his treatment. I really felt that Reese should have been seeing a therapist herself.
I give Twenty-Four Shadows four and a half stars. It is a touching and tear-jerking story that helps bring understanding of a seriously misunderstood mental illness.
I received a complimentary copy of this book for the purpose of review. All opinions are 100% my own.
About the Author:
Credentialed as a Nationally Certified Counselor and with personal experience with mental health care, novelist and columnist Tanya J. Peterson uses writing to increase understanding of and compassion for people living with mental illness. Her most recent work, Twenty-Four Shadows (Apprentice House, 2016) has received a Recommended rating from The US Review of Books. My Life in a Nutshell: A Novel (Inkwater Press, 2014) was awarded a Kirkus Star, an honor given by Kirkus Reviews “to books of remarkable merit.” Further, Peterson’s My Life in a Nutshell: A Novel was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2014. The novel also received a coveted “Recommended” rating from The US Review of Books. Her novel Leave of Absence (Inkwater Press, 2013) was selected as a Finalist in the National Indie Excellence Awards. Losing Elizabeth (Createspace, 2012) received Storytellers Campfire 2015 Marble Book Award, their highest honor reserved for a book that has made “a significant difference in the world.”