As I read Kenner McQuaid's Madman on the Water one question repeatedly entered my head: how much of this is true? The book itself is a roman à clef, characters are based on real people the author knows and scenarios are based on real events he went through. The story is written from the perspective of Patrick McShea, an unemployed lawyer with major clinical depression who lives in his parents’ basement. Patrick hits rock bottom early in the text and ends up spending the summer in a multifamily house on the Jersey Shore with a motley crew of professionals in their late twenties and early thirties who at first glance all appear to be more successful and happier than our protagonist. His time in Jersey is mostly spent hiding his condition from his roommates, kayaking, smoking a lot of weed, playing his guitar, trying desperately to get laid, and reflecting on his life in an attempt to uncover the catalyst of his depression.
Knowing that this book is based on the real life of the author and yet a work of fiction at the same time, I found myself in an Inception-like frame of mind throughout my reading. I wanted to know which events were true to the author, which were true to Patrick, and which were hyperbolized scenarios dreamt up by Patrick’s marijuana and depression filled head. Not that it ultimately matters; just something to think about.
The writing is good and the story flows naturally, but because Madman on the Water is self-published it contains a number of grammatical errors as a result. Strangely, I didn’t find an issue with that. To be fair though I’m the kind of guy who complains when a Grateful Dead album sounds “too polished” or “overproduced”. Like a Dead album, this book wouldn’t work if it was stylistically perfect, or at the least, it would be something very different. If anything, the mistakes add to the story. One of my favorite writers, Philip Dick, liked his readers to be just as confused as his protagonist. It made you empathize more with the character’s situation and you became more invested in the outcome because of it. In much the same way, the grammatical errors reflect the narrator’s own imperfections. It puts the reader into the mind frame of a broken man trying to put the puzzle pieces of his life back together.
Throughout his journey of self-discovery Patrick reflects on a variety of topics ranging from his Irish Catholic upbringing, to the legal profession’s obsession with image, to the Star Wars prequels. All topics are handled with great wit and insight. As would be expected from a book whose protagonist is suffering from depression—and I do mean suffering—sometimes things get dark. Patrick pulls no punches in describing his condition and what he goes through mentally, particularly on his worst days. Readers should also note that the sexual imagery is raw to say the least. If you are not prepared to enter the mind of a sexually suppressed deviant, then this book is not for you.
The one thing I have to complain about is that the story focuses too much on Patrick trying to score with almost every girl he meets. He talks about how he formed a bond with his male roommates, but the only time he really seems to spend with them is when they’re lying around stoned or at the bar trying to pick up women. Those relationships could have been developed more. On the other hand, as someone who has experienced several disproportionate dry-spells, I can hardly fault Patrick for chasing tail as often as he does.