Families are our first line of defense against the world. And when that line crumbles, brothers can turn away from one another. Christoph Fischer’s Conditions examines the horrific consequences of shattered familial relationships in a poignant and sad manner.
This work of contemporary fiction also addresses the issue of mental illness through a close magnifying glass, and begs the question of what qualifies as “mental” degeneration.
At the forefront as a poster child for mental illness stands Charles; however, as the novel progresses, there are times when Charles is the only one who makes sense in the cavalcade of characters that prance and plod through Conditions. His brother Tony struggles for years with jealousy of Charles, thinking that his condition is one that lets him off the hook for responsibilities. As is the case in far too many families, assumptions made in childhood only multiply and fester if not addressed. To make matters worse, Tony ends up marrying someone who only perpetuates his misperceptions of his brother.
The characters that surround Charles as protective shields make up a cornucopia of the human experience. Simon is the reluctant friend who finds it difficult to express emotions. Martha is the quintessential victim of an abusive relationship. Catherine is a mixture of voluptuousness and vulnerability—a Marilyn Monroe-type, except as a poet rather than actress. Sarah is a victim of her surroundings and pampered lifestyle, but with a heart full of love. Elaine is a rescuer and perhaps with her skills of prescience is the sanest of the lot.
Insanity and mental illness are difficult subjects to discuss. We tend to shy away from those who react to the world differently than the “norm.” One day, with the help of books like Conditions, perhaps we will realize that there really is no normal for which to judge others.
This except—a quote from Sarah as she talks to her daughter about Charles, expresses very well the concept of perceptions of the mentally challenged.
“I’m not idealizing Charles,” Sarah said. “I just didn’t find him as difficult as you obviously did. I considered him more of an eccentric than a nuisance. I don’t want everybody on this planet to be the same and predictable. He had a lot of character. If the price for that is a little madness as you call it, then that is a good bargain in my books!”
I applaud Mr. Fischer for tackling the subject and showing that those who appear to be mainstream and normal, really suffer more from trying to maintain some semblance of that standard. Conditions takes its characters, who all face some sort of mental challenge, and gives us a slice of their life. It’s really not scary at all—it’s simply the individuality of the human spirit trying to escape its prison walls.
Click here to read my interview with Christoph Fischer on Author Wednesday.
Click on the titles below to read my reviews of other books by Christoph Fischer.