'Post-Traumatic' by Chantal V. Johnson
Oh, Vivian. The main character in this book reminds me of the friend we all have---the one who is high-functioning and scarily smart, but who you sense (or you know, because they've told you) is underneath it all a smoldering cauldron of unresolved issues and barely manageable trauma. The one who is perhaps one crisis away from having it all unravel. Well, that's Vivian, the woman we come to know and love in 'Post-Traumatic'. She spends an extraordinary amount of time constructing an external image of someone polished and confident, funny and capable. So much time constructing it, that she scarcely realizes that she actually is all those things. And then she goes to her thankless job as a patients' rights attorney at a public mental hospital and helps her clients establish that despite their mental illness, they deserve to be treated as self-determining humans.
Meanwhile, Vivian herself is trying to become a self-determining human, struggling mightily against the scars left by her dysfunctional family, and against daily panic attacks which have her seeing every man as a predator. Well, not every man. With some men---mostly white, accomplished and artistic men---she is the one doing the preying, making dates then prowling through their social media to figure out what kind of woman they may want her to be, and then trying for a time to become that thing, whatever it may be. Just as Vivian fears being objectified, it escapes her that she has made these men objects, accomplishments, but doesn't quite see them as people. But none of it---not her job, not the men---help Vivian find any semblance of peace. And they certainly don't help on her quest to find her authentic self.
This book felt almost too true to be fiction. Vivian's thoughts----by turns funny, poignant, petty and downright sad---read like the inner soundtrack that might play in our own heads, and certainly in the heads of those of us who are deeply unhappy and even know why we're unhappy, but have no clue how to address it. Vivian looks at the world and decides she doesn't measure up, but at the same time has a deep conviction that she is unique in some way, with insights that no one else could possibly have about life, politics, art and the human condition. She lives very much in her head, but often outside of her body, hyperaware of every move she makes----especially if there is a man watching. She views other women---especially white women---with suspicion and as competition, even while telling herself she is an ardent feminist. She overthinks everything, but tells herself she wants to live a life of passion over thought. She is a contradiction.
I loved this book for its amazing wit and insight. Through Vivian, it challenged me to think differently about everything from race and relationships to the politics of straightening ones hair. But it was also an almost flawless character study of someone who is stronger than she believes herself to be, crawling on hands and knees toward a new and better way to live her life. I hope there's more from this author, but she's got her work cut out of her to top this one.