A KIND OF MIRRACULAS PARADISE is a unique work of nonfiction about mental illness.
When Sandra Allen was studying for her MFA in writing, her Uncle Bob, a hermit she barely knew, mailed her the story of his life as a paranoid schizophrenic. The single-spaced manuscript was typed in all caps with run-on sentences and typos, and contained a plea to help get his story out into the world.
She tried to ignore the manuscript, but something sucked her into the world of the family member she’d grown up believing to be crazy—the person who was missing from the wall of family photographs. What she discovered was an intense, heartbreaking, and at times hilarious story of mental hospital stays, busking and life in a band, failed jobs, and a religious awakening. There were stories of hallucinations, missing days, and paranoia, but also stories of friends and neighbors who made a difference.
Bob was first institutionalized at fourteen. His dad and stepmom told him they were going on a trip. He translated that to mean a family vacation, not a locked psyche ward where he was injected with massive amounts of heavy-duty drugs without explanation.
Many of the chapters are in Bob’s voice, complete with typos, although Sandra has changed the narrative from first person to (mainly) third. Interspersed are chapters of her journey with the manuscript, and how she fact-checked incidents with living family members and resurrected early memories of her own. She concludes that many of the stories she didn’t at first believe were, indeed, true, and by the end, decides he typed in all caps due to his failing eyesight.
Ultimately, the book provides a window into the treatment of schizophrenia in the 60s and 70s and highlights the still-present stigma. When Sandra reveals her concerns about how the family will react to the book, I understand. My aunt was also diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, and I grew up under that code of family silence.
Bob died without knowing that his story had become public, but I’m glad his voice can finally be heard.