My Bittersweet Charlie opens with a prologue, which sets a great framework for the story to come. University professor Dr. Doug Larson has finally decided to call it quits with his lover of nearly three years, Charlie Johnston. Charlie, a beautiful, smart, and ambitious school teacher, has broken his heart one too many times. Dr. Larson decided to break up with her by writing her a letter, which at last he delivered in person. It all makes for a bitter beginning to a bitter, heartbreaking story of love and betrayal, destruction and quest for balance, as well as all too many ugly moments and actions.
While the subtitle calls this book “A Tender and Tragic Love Story about a Young Teacher and her Battles with Manic-Depression and Schizophrenia,” I was unable to develop any particular tender feelings about the story or its protagonists. I can certainly see how mental illness could and does wreak havoc upon the lives of people close to the person who suffers from it, but I found both Charlie and Doug extremely difficult to relate to. The entire story felt like watching a train wreck about to happen – one knows it is going to be ugly and gory, but for some strange reason one keeps watching until the tragic end, hoping that at least the hero will jump out of the wreck-to-happen and save himself, but knowing all too well that such an outcome is extremely unlikely. Seeing how love does not always overcome adversity is quite painful, and watching Charlie’s steady destruction of Doug’s feelings with her manipulative and promiscuous ways was downright excruciating. The end, as tragic as it was, in a certain way, came as a relief.
While I truly appreciate the author’s courage in attempting to bring some exposure and clarity to the controversial subject of mental illness, I had to struggle a fair bit to finish this book due to fragmented storyline and stilted writing. The unlikeable characters and the tragic story did not help either, and I would be hard pressed to say that I’ve enjoyed any aspect of this book. In spite of all of those issues, I would recommend My Bittersweet Charlie to those readers who would like to see an unvarnished view of what not adequately treated mental illness can do both to those who suffer from it and those who care for them and are involved with them. This is a story that will certainly break your heart.
My Bittersweet Charlie: A Novel: A Tender and Tragic Love Story about a Young Teacher and her Battles with Manic-Depression and Schizophrenia
Robert L. Clark
Outskirts Press (2011)