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Submitted Literature

The Ecstatic

By Victor Lavalle


A strange and unnerving novel that at times had me simultaneously disgusted and laughing out loud. Focusing around 315-pound Anthony, who may well be in the early stages of schizophrenia, this novel takes the reader on a journey through an individual\\\'s madness, and the - quite possibly more pathological - madness that surrounds him through his mother, sister and grandmother, via a range of surreal characters.  The portrayal of a family, replete with hereditary issues of mental illness, imploding with the rescuing of Anthony, kicked out of college and found naked and rambling, is acute and jarring. The character of Anthony is particularly disturbing given the lack of stable, solidifying narrative - the reader is never quite sure of the perceptions and events. Madness is uncomfortably portrayed in a comic manner. If ever a novel explored the insanity of sane life, this would be it.

Key Themes:

  • Carer Issues
  • Postmodern Madness
  • Schizophrenia

Significant Quotes / Pages

3-4 - "They drove a green rented car into central New York to find me living wild in my apartment. Wearing shattered glasses and my hair a giant cauliflower-shaped afro on my head. I was three hundred and fifteen pounds. I was a mess, but the house was clean. They knocked and when I opened the front door there were three archangels on my stoop. My sister rubbed my ear when I cried. She whispered, - Why don't you go put on clothes?

My family took me home to Queens and kept me in the basement. When I tried to go outside alone, they discouraged it. My sister led me by the hand when walking to the supermarket. Mom cut my meat at the dinner table. They treated me like what some still refer to as a Mongoloid. A few days of this is tenderness, but two weeks seems more like punishment. The spirit of blame stooped in a corner.

Their concern was wonderful, but the condescension was deadly. And surprising. Before opening the door to them I really thought my life was full of pepper.

Three weeks after coming back to Rosedale I cooked a big, red breakfast for my family just to prove I could. Not only to them, but to myself. It was September 25th, 1995. I remember certain dates to organize and understand my disaster. Without them my mind is a mass grave."

5 - "I expected more sympathy, actually, because I sure wasn't the first one in my bloodline to go zipper-lidded. You should've seen when my mother tobogganed naked through Flushing Meadow Park in 1983. Four police carried her to the hospital wrapped in their jackets. Parents on the hill though Mom was a hump-starved fiend out to abduct their children. Her illness often made her frenzied sexually. Whenever she relapsed the woman was an open womb, but Haldol had stabilized Mom's mind for years.

There was my Uncle Isaac, too, who walked from New York to the Canadian border in 1986, and emptied out his brain pan with a rifle. So when they discovered me in that Ithaca apartment Mom and Grandma recognized the situation. Their boy had become a narwhal."

Reference: Victor, Lavalle. 2002. The Ecstatic. Vintage, 2002


- Charley Baker
Date Review Submitted: Tuesday 6th October 2009