By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
The Noonday Demon has its beginnings in an article Solomon wrote for The New Yorker, ”Anatomy of Melancholy,“ in the aftermath of his first breakdown; Solomon subsequently expanded it in the structure of an atlas, spread over 12 chapters covering history, evolution, treatment and suicide. He unearths insanity in nearly every stratum of society, interviews scores of depressives, investigates history for evidence of depression and its cures. Poverty may be an indicator of depression, as is drug addiction, violence, anger and even, in the case of Emily Dickinson, isolation from society and a compulsion to write poetry. Depression to Solomon is like holiness to a Buddhist: He finds it in everything.
Unlike Kay Redfield Jamison, who in her memoir An Unquiet Mind depicted herself in a swirl of adoring men and academic achievement, mitigating the stigma of her manic-depressive illness by demonstrating that the attractive, smart and rich can also be crazy, Solomon attacks stigma by telling his story with an almost embarrassing candor and very little drama. He plunges headlong into his darkest shadows. ”I will never forget the feeling of his face crumbling under my blows,“ he writes of an incident following a ”falling out“ with a friend he believed had betrayed him. The friend forgave him. By the time Solomon gets to his treatise on depression and poverty, in which he argues persuasively for a social policy that locates and treats depression in the indigent, he has set the stage for compassion. ”In this era of welfare reform, we are asking that the poor pull themselves up by their bootstraps,“ he writes, ”but the indigent who suffer from major depression have no bootstraps and cannot pull themselves up. Once they have become symptomatic, neither reeducation programs nor civic citizenship initiatives can help them. What they require is psychiatric intervention with medication and with therapy.“ Two-thirds of the way through The Noonday Demon, Solomon does not have to convince his readers that depression is real; by the force of his own narrative, we know. No doubt it affects the poor in equal numbers.
”Sometimes I wish I could see my brain,“ Solomon writes. ”I’d like to know what marks have been carved in it. I imagine it grey, damp, elaborate. I think of it sitting in my head, and sometimes I feel as if there‘s me, who is living this life, and this strange thing stuck in my head that sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t.
“It‘s very odd,” he concludes. “This is me. This is my brain.” The alchemy of both, however it worked, produced an impressive book.