Over the Edge by Brandilyn Collins: A Your Shelf Life Review

12 May

Brandilyn Collins

Five stars! Highly recommended: A real life witch-hunt scarier than any vampire or zombie tale

My reading group consists of twelve women. At one time, four had Lyme disease. When I told my doctor about what I thought was an horrific incidence, he said, “Lyme disease doesn’t exist in this county.”

So I had some idea of the situation before I began Brandilyn Collins’ Over the Edge. I didn’t know that she would deliver a thriller scarier and faster paced than any vampire story.

The villain? An infected insect less than 1/4th inch in length that you could pick up from a bush in your backyard.

Or that a vengeful maniac could use as a biological weapon.

In Over the Edge, Brandilyn Collins tackles the natural human tendency to attack those least able to defend themselves. This goes along with the propensity to blame innocent people for their disabilities. In the old days, this tendency expressed itself in witch-hunts. Now we see it with cries to balance governmental budgets by cutting public support to mothers and children.

Collins points out a new form of persecution: The unwillingness of influential portions of the medical profession to acknowledge that Lyme disease can have long-term debilitating effects. The refusal has resulted in insurance companies cutting off payments for long-term treatment. Some doctors who have continued to treat chronic cases of Lyme have lost their licenses.

It’s such a crazy scenario to anyone who’s seen people suffering from chronic Lyme disease that it seems like something out of Kafka. Yet it’s true.

Collins’ fights the insanity around Lyme disease with an imaginative, totally believable story that thrills as it imparts information. I could have read about the disease for days without understanding its impact on those who have it. When I read about her main character, Janessa McNeil, struggling to get off the floor in her own kitchen or trying to remember a few words, I get it.

The plot is complex, fine-tuned and surprising. Collins’ writing is simple and elegant. It conveys the emotional impact of the disease powerfully. Heroine Janessa McNeil presents herself as a strong woman in the direst circumstances. I’m not going to say anything more about the plot; I don’t want to spoil its surprises.

In writing Over the Edge, Brandilyn Collins neatly handles a couple of potential writing snafus that drive me nuts.

The book is sited in Palo Alto, CA, the Stanford Medical Center, and the vicinity. I lived in Palo Alto for six years and in towns within twenty minutes of it for most of my life. I’ve been treated in Stanford Hospital several times; I’ve worked at Stanford University.

When an author locates a book in an area I know well, I want to feel like I’m back on my home turf, driving down the streets with her as she describes the scene. I want to feel a jolt of recognition when the landscape and sociological terrain is depicted accurately.

Some authors make mistakes that any local resident will pick up, citing highway names incorrectly and portraying routes that don’t exist. That inaccuracy makes me doubt the writer and the story.

Collins gets it right.  I felt like I was cruising down El Camino Real as she describes Palo Alto’s major thoroughfare. I felt secure with the book’s deftly handled details and relaxed into the story.

I was not aware that Collins was a Christian writer when I began this book. As a Christian and a writer, I have strong feelings about the way Christianity and spirituality are portrayed. I hate it when a writer takes me 300 pages into a novel only to turn the book into a vehicle for talking about Jesus. That feels like a con. Just as bad are “spiritual” authors who have angels, devils, miracles, and divine interventions hopping out on every other page. That’s doesn’t fit my religious experience at all.

Over the Edge

Collins’s description of her character’s interior state as she reaches for the Bible is absolutely spot on. The way Janessa uses Scriptural passages and holds on to particular words or phrases in her despair fits my experience. I felt the parts of the book laying out spiritual phenomena were excellent, indeed among the best I’ve read.

While Collins’ book focuses on the inability of some members of the medical profession to recognize obvious illness, Lyme disease is not the only place the profession shows its dark side.  DID, dissociative identity disorder, used to be known as MPD, multiple personality disorder. DID is a rare condition occurring only in people who have been subjected to extreme trauma from which they cannot escape. Torture and severe sexual abuse in childhood are primary causes.

For some reason, a portion of the medical establishment has made discrediting the existence of DID a crusade. We have prominent psychiatrists and psychologists devoting their careers to proving that Eve didn’t have three faces. This has implications in the insurance industry and means that some people with the syndrome can’t be treated. It also could mean acquittal for a wealthy perpetrator being sued for abusing his child. “What’s the problem? DID doesn’t exist. It’s in her head.”

I have a friend who is a psychotherapist specializing in treatment of trauma. Her clients include people with DID. My friend told me that, if you read the research results and papers of professionals disputing the existence of DID, they make a good, rational argument. What they say seems true. But if you’re face to face doing therapy with a person with the disorder, it’s a whole different story. Reality is more powerful than research.

That makes two areas where some of our physicians, those who should be devoted to  healing us, are contributing to illness and denying sick people treatment. How many more exist? Why would physicians behave like this? Brandilyn Collin’s book shows us a few compelling reasons: professional jealousy, excessive ambition, and the desire for professional advancement. Financial gain if a vaccine or treatment that solves “the real problem” can be created.  Or the joy of proving a woman isn’t sick––the way she says she is––in court. Or maybe it’s just plain viciousness and evil.

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