cover image Playthings


Alex Pheby. Biblioasis (Consortium, U.S. dist.; UTP, Canadian dist.), $14.95 trade paper (248p) ISBN 978-1-77196-172-1

This intricate and intelligent novel by Pheby (Grace) is based on the true story of a respected 19th-century German judge, Daniel Paul Schreber. In 1903, he wrote about his experience with the midlife onset of a delusional mental disorder and treatment in an asylum in Memoirs of My Nervous Illness, which was later interpreted by Freud. Pheby opens the novel as Schreber’s wife suffers a stroke, precipitating his third major psychotic episode. Readers learn that Schreber is not always convinced that other people are real: they are “playthings” of various gods, and stop existing when they are not being witnessed. Through Schreber’s interactions with orderlies, doctors, family members, and other asylum inmates (who might or might not be real), readers learn about his difficult childhood, in particular his strict, demanding father. Pheby uses a close third-person perspective to zoom into Schreber’s mind during his periods of lucidity, or semi-lucidity. He’s keen to return home in time for Christmas, and seemingly held more or less against his will. Gradually, readers realize that he has been ill for some years and does not even always recognize his own family. The effort to discern what is real effectively transports readers into Schreber’s experience and tragedy. (June)