Raincoast Books, 273 pp, $34.95, hardcover.
"If your splendid novel was not evidence that you are a writer, surely your e-mail message is: only a writer can be this crazy." This feedback from his New York editor, meant to be jokey and reassuring, sends Fraser Valley author Jan Lars Jensen into nothing short of panic. Jensen doesn't fear for his sanity. No, despite his sincere attempts to explain, the editor just won't see what a mistake he's making--what a mistake they're all making--by going through with the publication of Jensen's debut novel, a science-fiction spin on Hindu mythology called Shiva 3000.
Can't he see they're courting Armageddon?
Yet when Jensen is finally able to look back on this turbulent period, he singles out that very editor: "I wondered why I had had to become psychotic before anybody recognized my illness for what it was....Why was my editor the only person to note, 'You're going nuts?' "
Acute editors notwithstanding, Jensen has a lot of people in his life curious to know how this mild-mannered creative-writing grad, blessed with a manuscript on its way to hardcover, is reacting with such unhinged dread to his imminent success. As detailed in Jensen's memoir, Nervous System: Or, Losing My Mind in Literature, wife, in-laws, and friends just can't seem to understand the very clear chain of events Shiva 3000 will kick-start: "Publication. Outrage. Protest. Lawsuits. International lawsuits. Global violence. War. Nuclear war." (The novel, a wonderful and energetic romp, finally appeared to scant notice.)
Jensen has plenty of time during stints in psych wards and group therapy to sift through the past for indicators, but Nervous System avoids pat conclusions about the writer's darkest hours. He aims to confine himself to a documentary of the disjointed days and insomniac nights, but his need for narrative outstrips him, demanding he transform crazy time into story; he wonders if storytelling and madness, each "an uncontrollable tendency to make connections", aren't two words for the same affliction.
Jan Lars Jensen reads next Tuesday (April 13) with Adam Lewis Schroeder (Kingdom of Monkeys) at Cuppa Joe's (3744 West 4th Avenue), beginning at 7:30 p.m.