The Wiscon book club I attend nowadays is called “Beer and Marmalade” (if you want to hear a little more about it, a couple of members were on WORT Wisconsin radio. Just scroll down to "Radio Literature" that played on January 8, 2009), and we’ve been reading some good stuff. In January, we chose “Set This House in Order” by Matt Ruff. What a glorious, wonderful read this is! The premise is brilliant, the concept original. A Multiple Personality Disorder guy who’s living a relatively normal life gets asked for help by another MPD, a woman who’s barely aware of her other personalities. The two of them embark on an discovery trek that opens the past.
Ruff does a wonderful job in not only establishing the different personalities of Andrew and Penny/Mouse, but making sure each personality is distinct and unique. There’s a wonderful part where Andrew and Mouse are at a hotel, as we see Andrew watching TV, but immediately we know it’s not him, but the more adolescent Adam, flipping through the channels. Each personality held my interest; in fact, there were several of Mouse’s personalities that I would have liked to know more history; i.e., Drone and the Brain. How did they get that way?
I also really liked how Ruff stated facts nonchalantly, facts that became very important later on. Some ways he did it was done to pull you deeper into the story. I loved the line he does in the middle of the story: "My serenity lasted about twenty hours, until Sunday afternoon, when I killed Warren Lodge." Just that sentence, coming out of the blue after having a hard talk with Penny/Mouse, was enough to make me go, "Huh? He did what?" And then he proceeded to tell what happened, and it had me on needles and pins.
That’s one way he revealed surprises in the story. Other times, he did it so subtly, that when that surprise was revealed, at first I was astonished, but then think back to something a character said, and thought, Hey, that does make sense. And yes, there are a couple of twists in the book that made my jaw drop. For instance, Andrew keeps his mind in order by imagining it as a playhouse that contains all his personalities. In the book, he happens to be talking to a personality named Gideon:
"The first floor of Aaron’s playhouse. How many doors does it have?"
"Three," I said. "Front door and back door."
Gideon nodded. "Front door and back door…and that makes three, does it?"
Brrr! That gave me the chills! Well, okay, out of context it doesn’t. But read the book and don’t tell me that when you get to that part, a tiny ripple goes up your spine.
It was a little hard to read the history of abuse done to Andrew and Penny, perhaps harder on Penny than Andrew, because there was physical violence along with the sexual abuse. But I thought the scenes were effectively done, without going into graphic detail, and it shed light on how Andrew and Penny ended up that way. In fact, Andrew’s delving into his own past as he helps Penny is heart-wrenching as he is forced to confront things he himself had forgotten. How he dealt with that made me stay up past midnight, reading this book in a mere three days.
This is probably the best book about MPD I’ve ever read. Well, it’s the only MPD book I ever read, but I’m glad I did. This gets five different types of breakfast out of five, all served at the same time. And someone will have to invent "Virtual Twister" for real. It sounds like a very interesting game.