I’m not sure whether Disintegration by Richard Thomas is brilliant or totally insane. I know that author, and he is brilliant. So I read the whole novel again and try to make up my mind. Now the story makes sense to me. There is a method to this madness. The novel is both brilliant and insane.
First read didn’t go well for me, so used to straight narrative and give and take dialogue from the usual word merchants am I that I couldn’t make hide nor hair of the skeleton in the closet of the protagonist’s mind. First-person stream-of-consciousness William Burroughs avant garde does not compute. What is real and what isn’t? Hard to tell.
And that’s the brilliance of this novel. You get drawn in so your own mind constantly questions what is real and what isn’t until, finally, you don’t care either way. The human mind is marvelously adaptive and mimicking, and you find yourself inside the narrator’s demented psyche and tattooed skin thinking just like him. After a while, the story seems vaguely familiar, and you realize it’s probably because the style and setting remind you of a combination of Nelson Algren’s novels and Wayne Allen Sallee’s award-winning “Take the A Train.” Maybe even a touch of Hemingway’s “The Killers.” Maybe it’s mainly because Disintegration takes place in Chicago and the streets and buses and trains have Chicago names. Or maybe it’s only because Chicago writers tend toward a dark way of thinking that’s broody and moody and self-destructive.
This quote from Richard Thomas’s novel rings true for me: “They say that your experiences in life, whether real or imagined, something you’ve seen in a dream or a movie—they all stay with you, they all become part of your past, with equal weight, your emotional baggage, the fabric you stitch together to weave the stained blanket of lies you call your life.”
Fair warning: Once you’ve read Disintegration, the stained blanket of your life won’t ever be the same. You’ll be haunted with horrible nightmares, doubts, delusions. It’s an experience you can’t forget, no matter how hard you try. It’ll be tattooed to your psyche forever.