Genre | Memoir
Page #s | 244
Publishing Date | May 2020
A hilarious and heartbreaking memoir about an outlandish mother and son on an odyssey of self-discovery, and the rag-tag community that rallied to help them as the mother entered the final phase of her life.
Dan Mathews knew that his witty, bawdy, unhinged mother, Perry, was unable to maintain her fierce independence at seventy-eight—so he flew her across the country to Virginia to live with him in an 1870 townhouse badly in need of repairs. But to Dan, a screwdriver is a cocktail not a tool, and he was soon overwhelmed with two fixer-uppers: the house and his mother.
Unbowed, Dan and Perry built a rollicking life together fueled by costume parties, road trips, after-hours gatherings, and an unshakeable sense of humor as they faced down hurricanes, blizzards, and Perry’s steady decline. They got by with the help of an ever-expanding circle of sidekicks—Dan’s boyfriends (past and present), ex-cons, sailors, strippers, deaf hillbillies, evangelicals, and grumpy cats—while flipping the parent-child relationship on its head.
But it wasn’t until a kicking-and-screaming trip to the emergency room that Dan discovered the cause of his mother’s unpredictable, often caustic behavior: Perry had lived her entire adult life as an undiagnosed schizophrenic.
Irreverent and emotionally powerful, Like Crazy is a darkly comic tale about the perils and rewards of taking in a fragile parent without derailing your life in the process. A rare story about mental illness with an uplifting conclusion, it shows the remarkable growth that takes place when a wild child settles down to care for the wild woman who raised him.
Like Crazy, the story of Dan welcoming his aging mother into his home for the last few years of her life, strikes an incredible balance between earnest affection and morbid black humor. I have found this book hard to describe, which is usually a sign that something has touched me deeper than words can describe. But I will try!
For starters, this book hinges on the relationship between Dan and Perry; they share a dark sense of humor, a love for people and spontaneous adventures, and a passion for activism. Perry’s total acceptance of her son’s homosexuality is a beacon of pure goodness, and I was especially touched that so many of Dan’s ex-boyfriends remained close to Perry after their breakup. But no matter how great they are individually and together, it’s always hard to live to parent, never mind one who is physically and mentally unwell.
Perry isn’t diagnosed with schizophrenia until she is in her 80s and has a breakdown. It is heartbreaking to read about, but Dan is right for being in awe of her inner strength to survive so long with an untreated mental disorder. It felt very true to watch him understand in hindsight memories of Perry’s “quirks.” So often we normalize abnormal behavior because we don’t know to think differently.
It sounds a little cliché, but this book about Perry’s last few years is a true celebration of life. The way she is cared for and celebrated is beautiful, and though her ultimate passing is definitely sad, we are left with the knowledge that she had a full and meaningful life because of her resilience and the love of her family.
I loved everything about this book, from its content to its tone, which is irreverent and loving and overwhelmed and intelligent. I’m so grateful that Mathews shared his story with all of us.
What Makes This Book Queer?
Dan is a gay man whose ex-boyfriends make frequent appearance throughout, since his mom is a wonderfully supportive women who welcomes all people into her life. Eventually Dan meets Jack, a recently out man who offers all of the stability and support that Dan didn’t know he needed. So cute!
Who Would I Recommend This Book To?
I think anyone who has both a dark side and a sweet side will appreciate the dark subject matter of this book that is handled with love and black humor.
Check out our Queer Lil Library for more book recommendations and reviews!