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Short of a Picnic

Eric Shapiro

Be Mused Publications

US Trade Paperback

ISBN 0-970-48689-8

Publication Date: 11-15-2002

106 Pages; $10.95

Date Reviewed: 12-10-02  

Reviewed by Rick Kleffel © 2002



General Fiction, Horror, Non-Fiction


Mental illness is a lot more common that one would like to think -- assuming one is capable of thinking clearly. In 'Short of a Picnic', Eric Shapiro offers up twelve stories of different types of mental illness. The illness depicted in each story is identified in its entry in the Table of Contents. Shapiro covers a wide range of situations and characters, much like mental illness itself. His portraits range from frightening vignettes to occasionally humorous interludes to moments that are flat out terrifying. It was cold when I read this, but it wasn't just the ambient temperature that brought a chill.

Some of the stories are not actually stories, but more on the order of vignettes, glimpses into the minds and lives of the mentally ill. 'Carl', the schizophrenic of the first story will be frighteningly familiar to just about any reader. We've all seen the people who mumble to themselves in fast food restaurants. Shapiro captures the feeling of being trapped next to someone who is mad in a public place. He mines the discomfort and discovers unease. There's no happy resolution here. The madness rolls on.

Occasionally the stories seem a bit too slight, or a bit too remote from the illness that Shapiro is trying to describe. The vignettes may lack the subtle swing that turns prose into a story. But Shapiro's plunges into the unhealthy minds he portrays have an unnerving sense of truth about them. This doesn't always make for fun reading, but 'Short of a Picnic' is never less than informative. Prepare to have your prejudices about mental illness swept aside in the stark light of unreality.

At their best, these stories are deeply chilling. 'Two Hermits' is an incredibly effective and satisfying story about multiple personality disorder. It's creepy and very low-key. This is no 'Sybil'. It's closer to Edgar Allen Poe, subtle and slow. It gets under the reader's radar for stories about the mad. If you've ever worried that you're going mad, then it will be particularly effective. Remember now, that only the sane worry about going mad -- or so it is said.

Shapiro is interested in the mental illnesses that we don't see mentioned every day, the one that fly right under our blind eyes. 'Short of a Picnic' is all show and no tell. Everything is demonstrated, and nothing pointed out, other than in the Table of Contents It's certainly full of interesting data, but the data is set forth in clean, tight prose and not in a DSM. If you've ever found yourself looking at strangers and wondering who is mentally ill, then this book will help you to understand that there are a lot more people who are a lot more mentally ill people than you might have suspected. It may not make you feel better, but 'Short of a Picnic' will certainly open your eyes to an otherwise invisible world of mental illness.