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Some Things That Meant the World to Me

March 25, 2010

Rhonda is a thirty-year old man (yes, man) living in California who suffers from an extreme case of depersonalization. Having grown up with an absent, drunk mother and her abusive boyfriend and spending most of his teenage years in a mental hospital, Rhonda as an adult is both deeply disturbing and heartbreaking. Feeling a lack of connection to the world around him, Rhonda takes solace by attaching himself to unexpected sources of comfort from his elderly neighbor who shares his name to a bag of fermenting prison wine to his imagined childhood self, Little Rhonda, who has come back into his life to help him confront his past and, therefore, the actual world around him.

The plot of Joshua Mohr’s debut novel makes it sound like just another attempt to exploit mental illness as easy fare, but his approach and writing style saves Some Things from becoming too melodramatic, or weird-for-weird’s sake (a la Palahniuk.) Despite Rhonda’s surreal outlook on the world, Mohr’s depiction of it is brutally honest and realistic. He saves Rhonda from being a cardboard cutout of a trauma-victim by infusing him with unique details. Even though the novel may seem, at first, to be a desperate collection of wacky stock characters, no one is two-dimensional, not even the villains. These are the people you pass on the street every day but never bothered paying attention to, yet Mohr paints them in such a loving portrait that, after getting to know them, you feel guilty for never having seen them before. You cry with them, laugh with them, get angry at them and embarrassed for them. It is these characters, at the heart of the story, that leave such a lasting impact.

As Rhonda stumbles to forge relationships and fails again and again, the most touching part of the novel is when he finally finds one with his neighbor, Rhonda. After meeting her, Rhonda slowly begins to build his life back up and, even though he slips many times throughout the novel, you become truly invested in his little successes. While you’d never guess it at the beginning of Some Things, this is a book that leaves you with a sense of hope and a renewed appreciation for the world.

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