Rightly or wrongly, readers have come to expect that the central character of a literary-style debut novel will be of the same sex as that novel’s author. Juliann Garey, however, has chosen the opposite approach for her debut. Greyson Todd, the protagonist of Too Bright to Hear, Too Loud to See is a Hollywood studio executive whose clients swept the 1974 Oscars. He is also a man who will walk away from it all just ten years later when his bipolar disorder finally becomes more than he can handle.
Perhaps more interesting, his entire story occurs during the time it takes to administer twelve 30-second sessions of electroshock therapy to Greyson. During the administration of, and recover from, those 30-second sessions, Greyson flashes back to events he experienced during his childhood, during his marriage and career, and to the ten years - beginning in 1984 – after he walked away from his family, having abandoned himself to the disease that still defines him.
As the novel’s narratives jumps back and forth in ten-year spurts, it becomes clear that, for decades, Greyson had only been postponing the inevitable. We learn what it was like for him to watch his father be destroyed by the very same illness, and how little guilt he felt as he silently slipped out of the lives of his wife and little girl one night. Tellingly, because he felt he was doing his daughter a favor by disappearing from her life, Greyson felt worse about abandoning his job than about leaving the child fatherless.
That Greyson is able to wander the world (Bangkok, Rome, Santiago, the Negev, Uganda) for most of a decade before finally crashing into ruin in New York City, is an achievement in itself. But, when he finally does crash, he does it big time. Despite the horrifying course of “treatment” endured by Greyson (hit-and-miss drug therapy, in addition to the ghastly electroshocks), the novel’s most effective comic moments tend to occur inside the mental hospital – and there are several charming and memorable ones.
Too Bright to Hear, Too Loud to See is more than a novel about depression and nervous breakdowns; it is a book about the tragedy of losing one’s most precious memories, second chances granted or not granted, and the luck of the draw. Greyson Todd’s decision to get out of his little girl’s life may well have been the best gift he ever gave her. Would she return the favor by giving him a second chance? The greater question might be, should she?
(Review Copy provided by Publisher)