Stalking Irish Madness: Searching for the Roots of My Family's Schizophrenia - Patrick Tracey Stalking Irish Madness is a good read, one that at times is incredibly gripping, but it falls short of the excellence it could have achieved. The family history is deftly handled, emotional without being draining, keeping the first third of the book tightly focused and moving at a brisk pace. At that point, I couldn't put it down. The shadow cast over this family by schizophrenia is tangible, and Tracey beautifully presents the dread and ultimate heartbreak as two of his sisters, one after the other, succumb to the disease.

Unfortunately, as soon as the book shifts and he reaches Ireland, the narrative slows to a crawl because there isn't any narrative. Lip service is paid to a search for family and bloodlines, but it's not a longing for home or his own family, really, more of a scientific search for mitochondrial DNA (mentioned several times in the second half), which allows the earlier warmth and energy to slip away. With no clear idea of what he's looking for, Tracey loses sight of the thread, partially beause he has no idea what he wants to find or what he can reasonably expect to find by roaming the Irish countryside. The writing wanders around in circles along with the writer, and the book suffers for it.

Of note, it's really nice to read a travel memoir of Ireland that doesn't center on drinking. (Although, I'll be honest, I love those, too.)

While in Ireland, mixed in amongst various meetings and exchanges taken from his experiences, Tracey lays out bits and pieces of Irish history, good additions that support his process without dragging down the story. Perhaps a bit vague, but for a history buff like me, that's a relief. The general outline of the famine is good to have with a work like this; no one needs fifty pages detailing it. Tracey never seemed to feel the need to prove out intelligent he is, and I very much appreciated that. Tracey also presents an interesting link between schizophrenia and Ireland--or more specifically, Ireland's extreme and heartbreaking nineteenth century history. I actually wish he had gone into more depth on this aspect.

In addition to the history, there is a fair amount of Irish fairy lore included in the text, including an explanation of the term "away with the fairies." I adored that, especially as his presentation was light without being derisive or New Age-y. Fantastic.

Unfortunately, the author doesn't seem to have the knack for describing those little moments during travel, the personal and the meetings, the interaction with the local residents and environment, that make travel memoirs so intriguing. More often than not, when Tracey presented his encounters, they felt repetitive and my eyes glazed over. There didn't seem to be a point to telling us about many of these moments, they fell flat, and it's entirely possible that Tracey didn't know the point, either. Fewer of these and more focus on the family he left behind, not just throw away comments bemoaning the fates of his sisters, would have been nice.

When Tracey returns to Boston and his sisters, he again picks up the narrative from the beginning, the one that got lost while he was in Ireland. There is a return to the warmth and focus that was there in the beginning, which is excellent but a little too late. I wish he could have held onto that throughout his travels; the book would have held together much better and the resolution would have been much more satisfying. I liked this part very much, I just wish Tracey would have been more comfortable with it in order to give us more.

When I finished, I wasn't quite sure what this was supposed to be, which left me feeling a little uneasy. Tracey attempts to transcend genre with a book that is part memoir, part family history, part mental health study, part history lesson, and part travelogue, an excellent idea that unfortunately gets bogged down by all the things it wants to be but doesn't quite manage. Tracey is a capable writer, with a deft (if a bit purple) hand, and I think the connecting narrative thread got lost in the midst of a project that turned out to be overly ambitious.