by Lesley Choyce
Red Deer Press
I'm done. Through. Finished. I'm on the edge of something and I don't know what it is. I just know that everything and everybody is holding me back. (pg. 7)
Dixon Carter is angry and he’s taking himself off his prescription meds. And though the name of Dixon’s illness is never identified (I don't like those labels, but once they are sewn into your shirt, it's hard to get rid of them; pg. 48), Dixon is far too complex for a simple mental illness label. He is insightful, expressive, and appreciative of his parents, his brilliant girlfriend Sylvia, his best friend Zeke and Fairweather Dave, a former surf champion and surfing magnate who gave it all up. Dixon delves into poetry, including a tome of T.S.Eliot's that includes the poem The Waste Land. He thinks about illusions, rules, paradoxes and Einstein.
But, by stopping his meds, Dixon is preparing for a trip down that dark path into the wasteland, and he’s sharing it with readers via his manifesto a.k.a. a journal. Using his thoughts and his interactions for guidance, Dixon tries to sort out who he is, what he wants and how to go about it.
I'm trying to sort out my ideas, my thoughts, my so-called illness, and my condition. I am, alas, a product of my culture, of my time, of my ancestry, and I'd prefer to step outside of all that. (pg. 31)
Then the unforeseen happens. Tragedy. Everything, everything changes. (Oh how I wish I could share the details but that would truly be a spoiler.) How Dixon deals is just as unforeseen.
Into the Wasteland is so real. It’s about being labelled with a mental illness and enduring the multitude of treatments in the hopes of achieving a normal life. It’s about wanting to be a regular teen, to hang out with friends and your girlfriend, and think about a future that doesn’t include regular transgressions into a dangerous darkness. And then the impending dark path seems like a walk in the park. An overlay of grief essentially immobilizes Dixon: no way forward or back.
I can’t imagine how Lesley Choyce is able to convey the twisted negative thinking of a young person with depression or the glorious euphoria of his manic episodes without an intimate knowledge of the complexities of his thought processes. Think about this as you read Into the Wasteland and attempt to make your way through Dixon’s tortuous reasonings, which he presents as his philosophy. He is convinced his thinking is clear but, though it is thoughtful and insightful, it is distorted and confusing, as are his writings in the manifesto. Lesley Choyce persuasively depicts Dixon Carter as a sympathetic character though his argumentative nature and irritability could have precluded that. Instead, what Into the Wasteland shares is that a person with a mental illness is never just well or unwell but as complex as any being trying to survive in a less than hospitable environment, whether it be internal or external.