I Never Promised You a Rose Garden is a good example aof a novel that suffers from poor synopses. It is generally billed as the story of Degborah Blau, a young woman whose life is divided between the relaity of a mental institution and the fantasy realm of Yr.
Superficially, this is accurate, but it strongly implies that Yr is a Narniaesque place of adventure and magic, where Deborah goes to fulfill the destiny denied her in the real world. Whereas the Yr reflected in the book is far less tangible. Its few physical features are scarecly mentioned at all, and generally only in recolleciton between Deborah and her psychiatrist, Dr. Fried. We the reader spend basically no time in Yr at all. Instead, we see it through her discussions with Dr. Fried and her own internal struggle. Yr is less a place than a pantheon of Gods that has grown increasingly oppressive, and a language in which Deborah’s scrambled thoughts can be more clearly articulated.
The split in the novel is thus not really reality versus fantasy, but internal versus external, as Deborah struggles to permeate the barrier without destroying herself in the process. We also spend more time with her family than I’d expected, who are portraying wit ha refreshing level of nuance. Her mother and father are flawed people, and subject to a less than perfect family dynamic marred by the outsized personality of her grandfather, but they all care about her deeply, and the root cause her illness is not foisted upon them. There’s no single breakthrough that brings Deborah back to the real world—another common cliche in books about mental illness—but a gradual paring back of thought and memory. All told, it paints a nuanced and accurate portrayal of therapy, which is perhaps not surprising, given the the novel is semi-autobiographical and concern’s the author’s actual experiences.
The book was perhaps not what I expected to be, but is ultimately stronger for defying those expectations. The writing is rich and eloquent, with evokative imagery that never feels stilted or excessive. Deborah’s whiz kid dialogue, clotted with witticisims, seemed a bit much, but this receded over the course of the book, and was likely meant to show her defense mechanisms. I found it jarred wit hthe otherwise naturalistic dialogue, but it wasn’t a fatal flaw.