Sunday, March 5, 2023

Post-Traumatic by Chantal V. Johnson


Wow! This was a whale of a debut novel. I went through this period where I was like, OMG, I am so over literary fiction. But apparently I'm just over literary fiction that isn't about emotionally disturbed ladies unpacking their issues. POST-TRAUMATIC is a particularly good book that has just as much relationship fodder as a soap opera, but the way it parses out these relationships like a scientist studying a tiny microcosm is so fascinating, it's almost better than the drama itself. If you liked the "sad girl" subgenre of literary books that was super popular in the aughts, you're going to love POST-TRAUMATIC, because it is like the second coming.

Vivian is an Afro-Latinx woman who works at a mental health asylum as a lawyer who advocates for the patients. It's tiring work and it kind of uncomfortably reflects her own messy internal state as a survivor of sexual abuse and emotional abuse in her childhood home. As an adult, raised voices and situations that leave her feeling trapped trigger panic attacks. She has buffered herself with a good job and self-medicates with weed and alcohol, but all her bad feelings still leak out in unhealthy ways. She holds her friends to unfair standards, she uses men as a source of validation, and she seems to have a mild ED in an attempt to rigorously exert control over herself and how people see her.

POST-TRAUMATIC is not an easy read but it's a good one. The author discusses trauma, and the racial biases inherent in the mental health system, but also how feminists can have internalized misogyny, cycles of abuse, the importance of therapy, what going down a spiral can feel like and look like, how being a person of color in a system riddled with infrastructural racism can exacerbate and add to one's traumatic cognitive load, and so much more. Vivian is not always a likable character but she is an incredibly sympathetic one. It takes serious writing chops to portray a person who is struggling with mental health with nuance, without sensationalizing their illness or resorting to easy stereotypes. It is also SO darkly funny. Some authors want to be edgy but just end up being tasteless or shocking. This was genuinely edgy. It made me laugh at so many things, while asking myself, "Can I laugh at that?" Vivian does the same but she doesn't care. Because it's her life, so why not laugh? Especially if it's that or cry. I tore through this in a day, it was that good. Hopefully the author has another book up her sleeve. What a ride.

4.5 to 5 out of 5 stars

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