Sumiko Saulson’s devilishly clever new indie fiction mishmash of horror, paranormal romance, and psychological intrigue is, indeed, a pariah, maybe even an anomaly in the mainstream publishing world. It is a very unconventional book that offers a supernatural dimension to the mysterious, sometimes mind-bending world of psychological pathological conditions, psychosis, and disorders. The story is set not-so mundanely in a mental rehab center of sorts (mental hospital is considered a politically-incorrect pejorative at this point, which makes finding the right term a difficult task). Sumiko’s writing is infused with a rich psychological dimension, allowing her writing to seamlessly take place in two multiple dimensions of sorts: both the ethereal dimension where spirits or immortal beings dwell that have no predilection or intimate knowledge of human emotions, or mortals themselves that are almost enfeebled by their emotional/pathological complexes.
The main character, from the outset of Sumiko’s story, is Flynn, who has been hospitalized in this particular mental rehab center, for having bizarre, almost disturbingly paranormal dreams, where he believes his subconscious is being visited by a energy-consuming immortal being, from that aforementioned parallel universe of sorts. In this parallel universe, the abstractions of humanity like “Happiness,” and “Mercy” really become derisive monikers for these immortal beings, who struggle with understanding the riddles of human emotions. Flynn’s spirit guide, in this story, is the sharp-witted, almost indomitable Charlotte, who is both half immortal,and half-mortal, allowing her to somewhat peaceably coexist in both the mortal and immortal realms. At the heart of the novel, there is a fun, interesting study of a romantic, psychologically-drenched power struggle, going on between Flynn and Charlotte, during the early scenes where they are both meeting each other for the first time in the mental hospital, and Flynn also begins see new, remarkable dimensions of this character, when she begins visiting his dreams, slowly revealing the mysterious layers of her immortal personality, where she exists almost nonsensically (to the minds of mortals) as “Happiness.”
One of the one drawbacks to an otherwise very entertaining, very well-written book (for the most part), is the difficulty that Sumiko sometimes has with balancing both story worlds, in a way that doesn’t feel artificial, but seamless. At times, the story’s otherwise story, richly entertaining, fluid flow becomes obstructed, when the story shifts, unexpectedly, to a scene involving Brash (Happiness’ immortal father), and her various capricious siblings, like Mercy. These scenes can be a little taxing, and difficult to read for some readers. And the writing here is structurally sound, it’s just that it somehow does read as cleanly, or smoothly, because the characters themselves in this realm become maybe too divorced from human emotions, for them to be really that interesting. In the writer’s defense, this was probably intentional, as these immortal characters are supposed to read as being aloof of human emotions, as that is something that they innately have neither understanding or comprehension of;therefore, it would be inaccurate for them to read in a way that implies that they have some grasp of the theatrics of human emotions. Perhaps, a better, cleaner incorporation of these scenes into the story would have made these scenes feel less disjointed, and really better juxtaposed with the most interesting parts of the story, at least to me, which were those concerning the events of the mental rehab center, the complex relationship between Flynn and Charlotte, and the eccentric personalities of those who reside at the mental ward.
Flynn’s scenes are very interesting, sometimes lugubrious, and oftentimes dryly humorous, in the best possible way, making these scenes so hilarious. The story’s structure itself fondly reminded me of Emilie Autumn’s semi-autobiographical, historical fiction fantasy novel of sorts,Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls. This novel is almost a delightful combination of an Octavia Butler novel, with its infectiously clever scifi elements, with a nice dose of psychological intrigue, and dark, macabre humor, much like the humor that is present in Emilie Autumn’s novel. Genre-wise, this story really, really held my interest, mainly for these reasons, because it was the type of horror/science fiction/ fantasy novel that does not precisely fit any one genre, but kinda is a neat pastiche of elements from other genres, which I feel many post-modern stories, in of themselves, are wont to do.
I really loved Sumiko Saulson’s Happiness and Other Diseases, even with the slight note of criticism above, as I was only conveying my complicated feelings about a story that is very ambitious in scope. It is not easy, at all, for a writer to blend paranormal, even otherworldly elements, along with the understated/misunderstood paradoxes of human psychology, along with a witty, charming love story, all in one cohesive whole; that is a task that even the best writers have great difficult with trying to balance, in a way that the book doesn’t become overwhelmingly onerous to read, rather than being deeply enjoyable. And for the most part, the book succeeds, for a majority of the book, being devilishly clever, smartly written, and psychologically fascinating, in ways I see in very few books available in first-party publishing companies. The minor faults are really just my own subjective mixed feelings on the scenes, taking place in the immortal realm, which felt not as interesting. Nonetheless, this novel comes highly recommended to anyone that wishes for their speculative fiction read to have a massive combination of different genre elements, besides only one; this will definitely keep your interest if you like cerebral, entertaining reads.
LITERARY TEA BLEND RECOMMENDATION (Check out more information on our blog’s tea features, for more information, on how to have your tea featured here!)
The main reason I chose Yezi Tea’s Tie Guan Yin, High Grade Oolong Blend, was that it was a brash tea, meaning that has a strong, resonant taste, which more inferior Oolong blends sometimes do not contain. It is the type of tea that really allows you to transiently experience the type of mind-bending thought patterns that one of the main characters, a half-immortal, half-mortal, individual like Happiness/Charlotte experiences at every bend of the novel, Happiness and Other Diseases. The brash element of this Oolong blend, from Yezi Tea, characterizes that brash meanness or detached ruthlessness (a separation from human emotions) that is a predominant, innate emotion for her immortal father, fittingly named Brash, who is trying to pair Charlotte/Happiness, with Flynn, for ulterior motives, that are entirely different from the motivations of the more human characters, or even the more characteristically human emotions of Charlotte, and her primarily mortal love Flynn.
The very slight, even semi-bold sweetness of Yezi Tea’s Tie Guan Yin blend reflects this persistent, though more discreet influence of human emotions, felt by Charlotte/Happiness. Interestingly, the tea, being a loose-leaf Oolong tea, begins as a small little green balls of tea, until the hot water (reflecting the essence of heat/passion of the two lovers in the story, Charlotte, and Flynn) combines with the tea, and when the tea steeps for several minutes, we get this very rich, emboldening concoction of tea, that will provide the perfect blend to accompany your mind-bending reading of this unconventional story, written by indie author Sumiko Saulson.