Book Review

In Possums Run Amok, teenager Lora Lafayette hitchhikes to destinations unknown, striving to quench her thirst to explore the unknown. Eventually she and her friend Kay journey across the ocean from their hometown of Portland, Oregon to experience European cultures whilst embracing an edgy, punk-rock, anarchist lifestyle during the late 1970s. In this “true tale told slant,” author Lora Lafayette reveals her story of Bonnie-and-Clyde-esque adventures with Kay, along with many lovers met along the way.

Lafayette’s work is told simply, yet boldly, through a direct and honest voice, but occasionally moments on the page erupt with enigmatic phrases, filling the reader with a sense of empathy, sadness, and sometimes dread. With themes ranging from travel to trauma, suicide and mental illness to the mistreatment of individuals in crisis, Lafayette’s dark tale explores her journey from adolescence into adulthood, when she begins to understand her manic ways after she is diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Although mental illness is rarely mentioned until the end of the memoir, moments of vulnerability foreshadow how Lafayette’s mental illness will develop throughout her teenage years into adulthood. The narrator seems to use her longing for exploration, drug abuse, and sexual encounters to numb the reality of feeling lost and depressed, although she veils the truth even from herself: “Sex could never destroy me. I had been a prostitute, been raped—date rape was, for a piece of my history, almost an expectation. I cared not at all. Searching my deepest depths for them, I could find no words, no scars, just ‘Oh, well. Men are scum.’” Though she claims to not be affected, it later becomes apparent the narrator seems to use sex to fill a void throughout the memoir; Lafayette continues to describe other sexual encounters, and eventually reveals her intimacy with her lover, Craig. With Craig, she feels “for the first time, perhaps the only time. . . a physical love that bonded heart and mind.” Although she finally found a promising love, life for the author becomes more dizzying as she grapples with her schizophrenia diagnosis.

As an intriguing literary move to illustrate the effects of mental illness, Lafayette beautifully describes the power of sounds by using the ocean as a metaphor. As she continues her transatlantic travel, Lafayette often mentions the ocean, alluding to a metaphor for freedom from the mental illness within herself. In describing an oceanic scene, Lafayette writes how she and her lover, Craig, “danced to the music of the ocean—a song peppered by the screeching of gulls,” and how they “enjoyed standing” along the shore with the ocean’s “vastness and power.” Within each ocean scene, the narrator becomes lost in the moment of the ocean’s lullaby, embracing the freedom she so desires from the trauma deep inside herself. Contrasting the reverberating freedom song of the ocean, Lafayette becomes tormented by lyrics from a song beckoning her from the stereo.

Song lyrics become a powerful metaphor for the voices Lafayette hears as she struggles with schizophrenia. The lyrics sing to her, telling her to “Give in. . . Don’t fight. . . ” as if “in a separate world.” In these “powerful, screaming melodies” the author struggles to fight the “tormenting, faceless voices.” These voices become Lafayette’s demons while the war rages on, and she nearly submits to death after being victimized and oppressed by hospital staff. The absence of empathy is impossible to ignore, especially after the narrator is told no one will believe she was abused because she is “crazy.”

As an award-winning poet, Lora Lafayette’s words reflect her success. It takes courage to share a raw, bold, and vulnerable tale. Although it may not be for the faint of heart, Possums Run Amok is a devastatingly beautiful story, exposing the truth of an individual in crisis in an often cruel world.

About the Reviewer

Stephanie Nesja graduated in 2021 from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire with her master’s degree in English, with an emphasis in writing. She enjoys writing nonfiction creative essays and the occasional short story.