Living with mental illness is a challenge at best, but being misdiagnosed can make life profoundly hard. In On Their Dime: The Manic Behavior of Charlie Taylor, Vol. II, author J.G. Mack shares fictional stories from the life of protagonist Charlie Taylor.
As the story opens, Charlie gets a job selling newspaper subscriptions with a few other men; they travel by car and work door-to-door in neighborhoods identified as promising, and in their off hours they eat, drink, and carouse. The title refers to the job being, more-or-less, a vacation paid for by their employer.
Mack describes this crew and their road trip with loving detail: The exhilaration of highway travel, the quirky behaviors and annoyances of each crew member, the bars they’re dazzled by and the restaurants they feast at all come across vividly.
The narrator is “Harvey Trotter,” who claims to be a friend who met Charlie when he hired him for an odd job. He describes Charlie as being misdiagnosed with manic depression (what we call bipolar disorder today), and prescribed Thorazine as a child. The narrator notes that, instead, “Charlie was just plain manic.”; he repeatedly refers to Charlie as “manic,” or even “a pinball.” Although he explains that Charlie’s affliction drove him to be constantly busy, he doesn’t offer a multi-dimensional picture of his illness.
At just 52 pages, this story can’t give Charlie real depth; reducing him to the repeated description “manic” can feel mean-spirited, and we learn little else about him. There’s a brief mention in On Their Dime of a story told in Vol. I, and while this novel can be read as a stand-alone work, it makes one wonder if the first novel is equally short, and if so, why Mack chose not to consolidate them.
On Their Dime is an offbeat story that excels in spots, but it’s too short and superficial regarding its main character to be successful overall.
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