... unnervingly excellent ... [Wang's] essays are all varied lenses on what it is to be one kind of human, to be schizoaffective, to be her. As a whole, The Collected Schizophrenias provides a new and welcome map for the severe landscapes of schizoaffective disorder, of cerebral disease, diagnosis, recovery, and relapse, of the many human mysteries of the schizophrenias. The essays are resoundingly intelligent, often unexpectedly funny, questioning, fearless and peerless, as Wang makes for brilliant company on 13 difficult walks through largely uncharted territory.
In Wang’s kaleidoscopic essays, memoir has been shattered into sliding and overlapping pieces so that the story of her life subtly shifts from essay to essay. The images and insights Wang summons from these shards are sometimes frustrating, but often dazzling, and worth the reconstructive work ... Wang is able to show off her novelist’s eye for detail, character and dialogue in her description of her time spent working at a camp for children with bipolar disorder. And her prismatic approach to ethical questions serves her especially well here ... [Wang's] descriptions of what it’s like to descend into psychosis are viscerally enlightening ... At times, the pervasive disorientation Wang employs in these essays — the zigzagging narrative, the tangled sense of time, the repetitions, the abrupt announcements of ever more diagnoses (PTSD, bipolar disorder, fibromyalgia, Lyme) — can be distracting. One alternately wishes Wang had been subjected to more disciplined editing and to more questioning of her vantage point. At other times, her multifaceted arguments can be gratifyingly mind-expanding.
... a no-holds-barred portrayal of a diagnosis that has been misunderstood for far too long ... Though Schizophrenias is a varied and moving portrait of living with schizoaffective disorder, Wang’s book is even more than that. It’s a gorgeous, sharp story of both mental and physical illness (and the ways the two intersect), love, understanding, and the many nuances of being human.
The book’s impulse to orbit its prose around quantitative data might feel distancing if Wang didn’t find inventive ways to write into an emotive, personal kind of calculus ... Wang doesn’t go into exhaustive detail about her experiences in involuntary psychiatric commitment—which she refers to as some of her strongest sources of trauma—and by refusing to do so, she doesn’t allow others to render her pain into something performative. Instead, she moderates the perspectives of others who share the genus of her diagnosis, an impulse that animates the collectivity of the book’s title, denies the connotative isolation, and speaks of her own manifestation of the schizophrenias in terms of her most individualized filters ... a collection that demands, and excavates space, for Wang to be heard on her own terms. She speaks not to people who want to witness her but rather to people who are like her, people have been forced to look at their illnesses from the outside in for as long as mental illness has texturized fictional landscapes with fear and spectacle. By making public what is deeply personal, by lacquering the personal with numbers and facts in an appeal to be seen as human rather than mythic, Wang has created essential reading in The Collected Schizophrenias—but, most importantly, she has done so for those who are afflicted rather than those who would spectate the affliction.
A talented memoirist is able to ride the line between experience and perspective and to relay both effectively. The Collected Schizophrenias manages to do this not only competently, but in a way that highlights the grace of Wang’s writing against the backdrop of her various lived experiences ... The inherent risk of a collection like this is that the essays must be able to function individually, but also be coherent as a collection. Here, Wang has struck a nearly perfect balance; though the initial diagnostic history is a somewhat slow start, the following pieces are all complete and independent, but contribute well to forming a kind of collage of Wang’s experiences ... Wang’s style is as elegant as can be. Regardless of the subject matter, she never compromises her voice ... Each of Wang’s descriptions, whether of herself, others, or the inanimate, is carefully measured. Wang exerts immense control over her prose with an impression of effortlessness. She never wastes time by softening the reality she must face on a regular basis, yet she does not exaggerate, hyperbolize, or oversell ... Wang’s writing is concise and technical without leaving the reader behind. The reader may expect that this style would make for dry writing, but this is not at all the case ... The true beauty of Wang’s work is that it accomplishes so much so efficiently and with such a committed aesthetic sensibility. Each sentence reads as crisp and sharp; the descriptions are honest and thorough; the experiences are significant, well-considered, and artfully rendered. The text is enveloping and unrelenting ... This refusal to simplify or reduce any part of her life leads to a great richness in the text.
[Wang's] elegant essays are strongest at their most personal — when she writes, with clinical precision, about what it feels like to believe that she’s dead, or to slip the boundary between our world and a sci-fi movie on TV — but they also confront major questions about psychiatric care with meticulous even-handedness ... Wang is a sharp critic of the ways we use badges and prizes to decide who is trusted to tell their own story ... Wang’s forays beyond the personal occasionally left me unsatisfied. At times, her cultural criticism — for example, an essay about the Slender Man, an urban legend that inspired two girls’ attempted murder of a third in 2014 — feels underdeveloped, like anecdotes still searching for what they have to say ... Still, [Wang's] characteristic nuance more often carries the ring of wisdom, hard won.
The Collected Schizophrenias is not a memoir, nor does it tell a linear story about the author. Wang prefers to use her own experience as a point of departure for philosophical inquiry ... The very fact of her book, she seems to assert, is proof that she can rise above her limitations ... While reading The Collective Schizophrenias, I often thought about the toll that writing it must have taken on Wang, physically and mentally, and the bravery it took for her to do it ... 'Ritual, my therapist told me later, would help, but it was not the solution; there was no solution.' There was no solution—this is the level of uncertainty, even hopelessness, that Wang lives with. And yet she perseveres, however imperfectly. It’s Wang’s ability to reconcile these opposing realities, to allow them to persist in contradiction, that feels most radical about her approach to being sick.
It is a set of choppy, fragmentary essays, some of which veer off on so many tangents that they verge on incoherence. Perhaps that is intentional, the shifting kaleidoscopic prose echoing the broken, tenuous hold of the narrator on our shared 'commonsense' reality. But it makes for an often frustrating and unsatisfying read ... More often, despite her credentials as a novelist, her attempts to evoke the horrors and suffering attendant on serious forms of mental illness fall flat.
In 13 tightly organized essays, The Collected Schizophrenias, winner of the 2016 Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize, reveals different aspects of Wang's diagnoses... through simply-conveyed research, powerful metaphor, and personal experiences ... The Collected Schizophrenias is riveting, honest, and courageously allows for complexities in the reality of what living with illness is like — and we are lucky to have it in the world.
Wang writes with lucid clarity about the 'fresh hell in my brain' and forgoing raising children with her husband due to the risk that 'I could be psychotic again at any moment' ... Richly descriptive in these sections, her writing is dotted with a battle-hardened humor ... Threaded through Wang’s fractured yet cohesive and empathy-sparking narrative is the awareness that as frightening as the hallucinated voices are to those like her, they terrify others and threaten social ostracization ... harrowing and heartfelt...
... incisive and moving ... Wang’s writing throughout The Collected Schizophrenias is insightful, curious, and never condemnatory, with an eye for revelatory details that embody the complexities of schizophrenia as both illness and metaphor ... The essays of The Collected Schizophrenias continue this intuitive chain of connections, and tether Wang tenderly, intelligently, insistently to us. May she return again and again, for she has much to impart, in her brilliant prose, about how to write the shaggy, sharp-toothed thing and not the wolf.
... absorbing ... Though its volume is relatively slim at just over 200 pages, The Collected Schizophrenia is, in its achievements, a big book ... Wang situates her experience within a matrix of other histories, including that of Malcoum Tate, a schizophrenic man killed by his sister in 1988, and the two girls charged in the 2014 Slender Man stabbing. These parallels are harrowing, fascinating and handled with deep compassion. Less compelling are passages sticky with blank-faced acronyms and medical jargon. But they’re necessary, and demonstrate Wang’s commitment to explaining the facts, as annoyingly complex as they may be, surrounding what’s at stake when it comes to ... Wang’s accounts of the onslaught of psychosis are particularly vivid.
By exposing the ways in which she straddles or blurs lines, Wang ultimately pulls the curtain back on a medical system that doesn’t always have solid answers about mental and chronic illnesses. In doing so, she shows us the uneasy click-clack of the cogs and gears in the machine, revealing the ways that medicine sometimes helps and sometimes fails us. It’s an unsettling sight ... Though The Collected Schizophrenias often examines chronic and mental illness, ableism, and mental health stigma in the same way that Wang describes diagnostic language, there is a poignant undercurrent of hope in the power of narrative ... Her truth serves as something akin to the red ribbon she ties around her ankle as a way to stay connected when 'a certain kind of psychic detachment occurs.' In turn, Wang asks us to feel our way into that discomfort for a time, poised above the web of uncertainty below—hovering in waiting, without a landmark.
... takes on this struggle with accessible grace ... Wang’s writing tackles social complexity through personal journeys, centering the author as a sympathetic, trustworthy narrator who leads the reader across uncertain and unstable ground ... Wang downplays neither her own achievements nor the severity of her illness ... has none of the cynicism regarding psychiatry that marks the canon of mental illness memoirs. Wang acknowledges her own unreliabilities. She’s open about her struggles. But her schizophrenia is real, and she appreciates psychiatry’s attempts to mitigate her symptoms ...'Chimayó' and 'Beyond the Hedge,; the collection’s closing essays, shift away from the conventional authority that Wang establishes in her early essays. They’re more personal and more concerned with unscientific experiences. While those explorations wouldn’t be disconcerting in another collection, they sit uneasily in the closing pages of this one. Wang’s early clarity and confidence trail away into an unresolved chord of unstable knowledge and cultural doubt ... a profoundly intelligent book. Wang addresses complex issues with scientific literacy and personal openness. Her book is valuable to both medical professionals and lay people; anyone who wants to understand the experience of a woman on the psychotic spectrum would do well to begin reading here.
For some, Wang treads territory that will feel well worn ... But this collection... does more than educate the reader ... With a researcher’s sensibility, [Wang] recounts her experiences—as a student at Yale, as a lab manager in Stanford’s Mood and Anxiety Disorder Laboratory, as a fashion blogger, as a counselor at a camp for children with bipolar disorder, and twice as a patient in a psychiatric hospital. When Wang makes herself vulnerable and relates her experiences, the essays are utterly engaging ... In her life, Wang has obviously done more than survive from one second to the next. She’s written an important collection of essays of which all of us will be more knowledgeable and sympathetic for having read.
Wang’s vulnerability as she puts her diagnosis and lived experiences in conversation with each other welcomes us into her life while also provoking our own self-reflection ... Wang gives readers a map of sorts into rarely-charted waters. She handles the discussion of schizophrenia with a gentleness for both the subject matter and the reader. The collection strikes a balance between the technical and the emotional, and works, like good books do, to change how we think.
... an exceptional, thought-provoking work ... Wang is at her best when she weaves personal experiences with cultural criticism and journalism ... [Wang's] language has the power to surmount deep-seated prejudice against those with psychotic disorders ... The Collected Schizophrenias fills a vital need in our society, clearing a path into genuinely new literary terrain with uncommon grace.
One is tempted to praise Wang’s vulnerability and courage in writing such a collection ... The temptation to make Wang an example of what can be possible for those who experience psychosis negates the pain of those who suffer in more overt ways, precisely what Wang avoids throughout the book ... [Wang's] searing honesty coupled with the strength of her writing make The Collected Schizophrenias a remarkable look into a little-understood part of the human condition.
Esmé Weijun Wang’s new book of essays... warrants much of the hype and anticipation surrounding it ... Wang is a highly articulate and graceful essayist, and her insights, in both the clinical and general senses, are exceptional ... [Wang's] perspective in The Collected Schizophrenias is encyclopedic and prismatic even without taking into account how her primary mental illness may have fractured her identity ... [Wang] writes with clarity about how it feels when a psychotic episode descends upon her, an experience only a fraction of us will ever have ... These essays are mesmerizing and at times bittersweet ... The Collected Schizophrenias is a necessary addition to a relatively small body of literature, but it’s also, quite simply, a pleasure to read. The prose is so beautiful, and the recollection and description so vivid, that even if it were not mostly about an under-examined condition it would be easy to recommend.
In 13 remarkably well-researched, intimately detailed essays, Wang guides readers on a tour of her own psychological and emotional terrain, grounded in the clinical and cultural context that has shaped it ... examines the connections between mental illness, creativity, spirituality and the occult without resorting to romanticizing or cliché ... Though Wang writes from a highly educated, keenly analytical point of view, there is no academic distance or coldness between her and the page ... organizes the confusion, terror and complexity of her experience into an imperfectly cohesive, profoundly illuminating whole.
Esmé Weijun Wang delivers stunning insights into the challenges of living with schizoaffective disorder in The Collected Schizophrenias. Wang provides glimpses of her journey toward understanding herself with deliberate, sparkling prose and exquisitely fine-tuned, honest descriptions filled with intimate details of her struggles ... Wang brilliantly explores the relationship between herself and her psychosis ... The Collected Schizophrenias easily takes its place among the best memoirs about illness and the transformative power of embracing it.
... stunning ... Wang’s book provides us with a new lens through which we can understand and internalize mental illness. The author paints a larger picture of what it means to be a patient by taking us to the moments in which reality fractures and the mind begins to fill in its cracks.
the author consistently demonstrates her precise attunement to not only the stories buried in official statistics and dry historical sources, but also to the broader implications of her own personal experiences. Unfortunately, Wang’s prose is often clinical when it needs to be harrowing or affective when it needs to be precise, and the transition from the macro view to the micro is occasionally inelegant. What makes these essays worthwhile is their attention to both the broad historical and cultural implications of their subject matter and the personal, first-person perspective that is so often lost in historical accounts. The author is an adroit researcher and an exacting describer, but the two halves often fail to mesh effectively ... the book remains a necessary antidote to the often ignorant and fearmongering depictions of mental illness in popular culture ... Better integration of the two thematic halves and prose that was more lively and varied would have made the collection truly great, but even so it remains quite powerful and certainly useful for fellow sufferers.
Penetrating and revelatory ... Wang invariably describes her symptoms and experiences with remarkable candor and clarity ... Throughout these essays, Wang trains a dispassionate eye onto her personal narrative, creating a clinical remove that allows for the neurotypical reader’s greater comprehension of a thorny and oft-misunderstood topic.