From John Wray’s Lowboy to Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, contemporary authors have boldly chronicled the minds, trials and tribulations of characters facing a range of cognitive and neurological challenges. Michelle Adelman’s debut, Piece of Mind, fits neatly into this genre.
Adelman’s protagonist, Lucy, was struck by a car when she was 3, leaving her with a traumatic brain injury "before it was trendy," as Lucy wryly offers in the novel’s blackly comic opening line. There’s a dash of Silver Linings Playbook in this portrait of an entire family confronting these challenges, as well as in the book’s unlikely romance.
Strong coffee, art (many pencil sketches are actually included in the book) and the Central Park Zoo have lent a semblance of structure to Lucy’s life, but she still struggles mightily. As if her physical injury weren’t enough, Lucy and her younger brother, Nate, lost their mother at a young age. This leaves Lucy seeing ghosts and relying on her father, who attempts to nudge his now 27-year-old daughter into the real world. These efforts are sometimes practical, occasionally hapless, but always loving. Which is why it is such a blow when Lucy’s father is felled by a heart attack, forcing Nate to assume a parental role he is not ready for. Strong coffee, art (many pencil sketches are actually included in the book) and the Central Park Zoo have lent a semblance of structure to Lucy’s life, but she still struggles mightily.
Piece of Mind lightens up when Lucy meets Frank at a Manhattan coffee shop. Frank’s got familial and social problems of his own, and as he and Lucy (quite awkwardly) grow closer, they have to figure out if they are the solutions to their respective troubles or, instead, just a new set of very complex problems. Adelman’s spare prose ably captures Lucy’s inner workings, though the book’s flashes of black comedy may make some readers hungry for more to lighten up the more somber proceedings. In the end, a colorful minor character named Enid pushes Lucy to fulfill the promise implicit in the Moliere quote that serves as this often touching novel’s epigraph: “The trees that are slow to grow bear the best fruit.”