Toxic Nursery is a semi-autobiographical exploration of dissociative identity disorder, a dizzying free-fall through memories and alternate selves told in something halfway between poetry and prose. It’s difficult in some ways to work out what to say about this book, the first by author Carlie Martece, but I can say this for sure: it’s unlike anything else I’ve ever read.
It’s hard to know on what criteria Toxic Nursery wants to be judged. It doesn’t seem to set out to be an enjoyable read per se, I don’t believe it’s intended primarily as a way to educate people about dissociative identity disorder, and it certainly doesn’t play by the usual rules of autobiography. While reading, I felt like its primary achievement was to communicate a very little bit of the confusion and disorientation of growing up with numerous identities in conflict with each other, taking turns to take the lead on your interactions with the wider world.
I found it interesting how all of the alternate identities are given their names and are clearly characterised—unlike pretty much every other character, who is just assigned a number, eg father #2, therapist #3. It serves to emphasise how the internal chaos mutes the external world.
The writing can be beautiful at times, and the language is heightened in a way that would have been highly impactful had it been rationed out a little more throughout the book. Because there’s no let-up from the flowery figures of speech I started to find it hard to follow and quite tiring, I certainly stopped being able to enjoy the use of language, but this brings me right back to the point I made at the beginning; given the nature of the book, for all I know that sense of linguistic exhaustion is exactly what the author intended.
There’s a lot going on in this book, it’s multi-layered and provocative, and at every stage it resists simplicity. That can be both a strength and a weakness in something that’s out in the world, hoping to be understood on at least some level by readers, but whichever side you feel Toxic Nursery comes down on it is fearlessly and faultlessly committed to the line it takes right from the start. There’s a lot of courage in laying out your internal life the way Martece has here, and a fierce intelligence and creativity shines through in every paragraph. In a way, the experience of reading it is more like trying to parse a piece of visual art than a normal reading experience, which makes a lot of sense given the author’s primary medium!
Blurring the line between fantasy and reality, imagination and the real world, Toxic Nursery is an intricate and bewildering account of a life with mental illness. Poetic, revealing and laced with dark comedy, Toxic Nursery is certainly worth investigating.
Toxic nursery is available on Amazon in paperback or ebook form.