Two Portraits of the Mind: Daniel Smith, Monkey Mind and Shane Jones, Daniel Fights a Hurricane

This is the difference between psychosis and anxiety, perhaps the only difference.  The psychotic fear nonexistent risks: alien abductions, microphones in the molars, demons in the trees, devils in the skies.  The anxious fear actual risks: disease, dismemberment, assault, humiliation, loss, failure, success, madness, death.  All the potholes on Future Road, all the risks distraction hides day to day from sturdier minds are, in the anxious mind, omnipresent and snarling.  --Monkey Mind
 Daniel thinks, I am underwater and inside the first set of giant pipes. I am inside a village of underwater pipes, and the Hurricane is somewhere, possibly here. --Daniel Fights A Hurricane

The title of Daniel Smith's new memoir, Monkey Mind, refers to a Buddhist concept of the mind as chaotic and prone to chattering.  The practice of yoga and meditation aim to "tame the monkey mind" as a great yoga teacher of mine would say often during her practice.  Smith explains this, but I already knew, because I have practiced yoga, and suffered from a chronically anxious mind, for much of my life.  In fact, even thinking about writing about anxiety on my blog starts what I call "the hamster wheel,"  an obsessive consideration of all the possible outcomes and consequences of any action, in my own mind.  It is this feeling that Smith captures so well in his writing.

Smith's memoir begins with an almost tragic scene of sexual initiation, which, throughout years of therapy, and years of occupying his mind, he has also identified as a (but not the) catalyst for the serious bouts of anxiety that he suffers as a young adult.  The memoir is mostly that: a memoir.  He talks about his own suffering, and his own exploration of his family history (his mother is an anxious therapist) and his past. I didn't learn a ton about the science of anxiety, but instead experienced a description of something that happens in my head that I've never heard so well described.  Smith is funny and self-deprecating, but also hopeful.  Anxiety comes for him like a storm, but the storm clears as well.

And that is my clumsy transition into talking about Shane Jones' latest, Daniel Fights a Hurricane.  If you were going to characterize the main character of this slight novel as insane (which Shane Jones hopes  you won't), then he is probably psychotic rather than anxious.  The image of the hurricane in the first 100 pages (or half) of the book worked well for me though as a metaphor for an anxious mind.  The story of Daniel reads like a parable, leaving me as a reader trying constantly to figure out what things were meant to represent, and coming up short again and again.  The narrative shifts between the story of Daniel, a pipeline worker with an intense fear of an oncoming Hurricane, as he leaves his job and eventually leaves reality to populate his own world of strange characters and underground pipelines.  In the meantime, his ex-wife Karen searches for him, providing, with her narrative, a sort of baseline for the reader who is trying (if that reader is me) desperately to ground herself. 

The book made me feel crazy.  I wanted to make sense of it somehow, but the symbols and narratives kept shifting and changing, like a Hurricane -- which is pretty brilliant, but not for me. I've seen it described as surrealist, and would myself categorize it as magical realism (which I never really "get").  It is also heavily laden with symbolic significance, which I grew tired of by the end.  I was much more interested in the real world than the one created by Daniel, and unfortunately, that imaginary world took over more and more as the novelette progressed.

So, my recommendations:  I strongly recommend Smith's book, especially to sufferers from anxiety, but also to anyone who enjoys a funny, honest memoir.  Jones' book wasn't for me, but might appeal to fans of surrealism or magical realism, or fans of his other works (which I will probably still try).

Title:Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety
Author: Daniel Smith
 Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Date: 2012
Genre: Memoir

224 pages.
Where I got it: From the publisher through Edelweiss in exchange for my honest review
 Challenges: None

Title: Daniel Fights a Hurricane
Author: Shane Jones
 Publisher: Penguin
Date: 2012
Genre: Literary Fiction

224 pages. (Strange)
Where I got it: From the publisher through Net Galley in exchange for my honest review
 Challenges: None


  1. I've been intrigued by Monkey Mind since it came out as I too have a chronically anxious mind. I have never tried yoga, but a doctor did suggest it once. I absolutely love to stop by your site and have awarded you the Liebster Blog Award. Have a terrific weekend and keep up the great work :)


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