A heartbreaking novel that packs a visceral punch!
“The Wacky Man” is a compulsively readable debut novel that expounds upon the life of Amanda May. Amanda is fifteen when we meet her and she is a scarily intelligent and seriously mentally ill girl. Her illness stems from a lifetime of both physical and emotional abuse. She has retreated – both mentally and physically. She has detached herself from a world that is just too painful for her to endure. She has become a recluse and has spent the past year in her bedroom. Not even venturing out to eat. Her mother timidly leaves her food just outside the bedroom door. She pulls out her hair (literally) until she has a bald strip down the middle of her head which she terms a ‘reverse Mohawk’. She injures herself in other ways as well. She cuts herself with a broken mirror, She is a self-fulfilling prophecy. She has NO self-esteem and considers herself fat, ugly and deformed. Her shrink tells her she has ‘extreme anxiety’, but she says her introverted behavior is a result of her not wanting to bring notice upon herself.
The reader also has a chance to learn more of Amanda May’s mother, Barbara, and her abusive hard-drinking Irish father, Seamus. We learn of the time when they were first married – before and after the birth of their three children, the twins, Jamie & Tommo, and Amanda.
We learn of Barbara’s slow surrendering to her dismal circumstances. Of her prescription haze that gets her through her traumatic days. Her home (or rather Seamus’ house) is a battlefield from which she can find no refuge. Despondent and afraid for her children, she feels impotent, trapped, and condemned to live a life of despair. Eventually she is so battered down by her life that she becomes apathetic and does not intervene when her children need her most.
From Amanda’s memory we learn of the horrendous abuses Seamus inflicted upon all three of his children. A master of Irish charm and smiles to the outside world, when he enters the door he vents all of his frustrations and inferiority complex on his defenseless children.
When Amanda wacks off school (slang for truancy), she calls the truant officer the Wacky Man. Then when her father literally whacks her for ‘wacking it’, the name transfers to her father. A man whom the family moves around like crabs, sideways on so that they can always see him…
We learn of Amanda’s fierce intelligence and lack of schooling. Her intellect makes her aware of the bad and evil in everything she sees and reads about. She can no longer recognize that there is any goodness in anything. We weep for her. We read with a lump just below our throats.
“The Wacky Man” is sad, disturbing, and so real that the reader fears that the author must have some first hand knowledge of this kind of pain… It is a novel that depicts the result of severe family dysfunction. Set in Lancashire, but it could be anywhere. Anywhere where there are abusive fathers and abused children. Difficult to read – but so compelling and well-rendered that it SHOULD be read. It takes strength to read this brutal and harsh look into a life of suffering… But if you do it will leave Amanda May unforgettable – and you – changed.
This astounding debut is the winner of the 2015 Luke Bitmead Bursary, the United Kingdom’s biggest prize for unpublished authors.
Lyn G. Farrell grew up in Lancashire where she would have gone to school if life had been different. She spent most of her teenage years reading anything she could get her hands on.
She studied Psychology at the University of Leeds and now works in the School of Education at Leeds Beckett University.