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Book Review: For These Two Unlucky Lovers, The Journey Is The Path

The Other Side of Nothing is a beautifully presented examination of psychological pain.

Eleanor J. Bader May 24

Almost from the start, readers of Anastasia Zadeik’s intense and poignant second novel, The Other Side of Nothing, will have an inkling that this story ends in tragedy. As the mystery unfolds, the two main characters Julia and Sam embark on a road trip that takes them across the United States. It’s an adventure filled with giddiness, hijinx and terror.

The pair meets in 2016 as in-patients at an upscale psychiatric hospital in the Northeast. Julia is there voluntarily, having signed herself in the day before her eighteenth birthday. The reason? Suicidal ideation. What’s more, she is reeling from a diagnosis of trichotillomania — a disorder in which she feels as if she is watching herself from outside of her body — and is mourning the recent death of her father, a loss she believes she helped hasten. Her despair is palpable.

For his part, 23-year-old Sam has been hospitalized numerous times for bipolar disorder, and despite significant success as a visual artist and photographer, he has also repeatedly tried to end his life. 

Sparks fly from the moment the two lay eyes on one another and a romance quickly blooms, with Sam deciding that Julia is his muse.

Sparks fly from the moment the two lay eyes on one another and a romance quickly blooms, with Sam deciding that Julia is his muse.

Julia is flattered by the attention of this attractive older man, and without giving it a second thought allows herself to be drawn into Sam’s orbit.

Chaos follows.

As Sam sees it, time is of the essence since his hospital release date is fast approaching and he has plans — big plans — to drive to Yosemite National Park to recreate a new version of Ansel Adams’ famous photograph of Half Dome taken in 1927. The one wrinkle, Sam explains, is that his creativity relies on Julia’s presence, which will require her to leave the facility without authorization.

The ensuing road trip is fraught. Sam not only refuses to take his medication, but drives 90 miles an hour and refuses to eat or sleep. He also forces Julia to abandon her phone. Eventually Sam’s mother Arabella, a wealthy gallery manager who has seen her son go on this quest before, and Julia’s still-grieving mom Laura meet. In an effort to find their kids, the two unlikely allies embark on a journey of their own.   

What follows is dramatic, horrifying and compelling. Suffice it to say, throughout the book there are connections lost and connections found; the characters sometimes flounder and sometimes soar towards the book’s inevitable conclusion.

All told, the novel’s examination of psychological pain is beautifully presented, and while I wish that Julia’s biracial identity had been probed more fully, this is a small criticism. 

In an author’s note at the end of The Other Side of Nothing, Zadeik shares that she and several members of her immediate family have considered suicide. It’s a brave admission. In addition she acknowledges that obtaining support is often filled with obstacles — from long wait times for counseling appointments to stigma surrounding mental illness, to medications that sometimes help and sometimes make symptoms worse. Nonetheless, remaining silent and isolated, she concludes, benefits no one.

One of Sam’s mantras, which was clearly more aspirational than lived, was Albert Camus’ statement that “the struggle for the heights is enough.” The Other Side of Nothing reminds us that even if we bristle at this idea, even if we push for more, the process is as important as the end result and needs to be valued.    

The Other Side of Nothing
Anastasia Zadeik
She Writes Press 
May 28 release

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