Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Set This House in Order

How do you write a book about 20 characters when you only have 2 physical bodies with which to work? Have the two main characters be people who suffer from MPD (multiple personality disorder). Step back, and enjoy the ride...

The reader is immediately introduced to Andrew Gage, who is a very well-adjusted, aware, multiple. Andrew has even developed some good jokes about being multiple - for instance, he will always win in a vote because he always has everyone else outnumbered. Andrew has worked with a psychologist for several years, and has chosen to keep all his personalities separate. Andrew is in control of the body, but is aware of the existence of his other personalities, and often has running relationships with many of them. The scene where they all eat breakfast is one of the most entertaining and illuminating of the novel.

Andrew is introduced to Penny, who also has MPD, but is not aware of it. She is currently living a tumultuous existence where she loses time frequently. She has several personalities, but is unaware of them, and therefore has no say in who has control over the body at any given time.

Andrew reluctantly agrees to reveal Penny's disorder to her. This results in Andrew further addressing facts about his past that even he or any other of his personalities knows about. Andrew and Penny go on a rolicking road trip and find that some of their respective personalities become kindred spirits.

Ruff describes the process of dealing with MPD with such sympathy and accuracy, it is difficult to believe that he is not a multiple himself. Characters who shouldn't be sympathetic become quite endearing in their own way, and somehow one can empathize with Andrew and Penny and what it would be like to deal with all their personalities.

Set This House in Order must be read slowly, but it is thoroughly engaging and one of the most unusual book premises that's been explored in a long time.