Life Beyond Reason: A Memoir of Mania is on the Book Club Reading List.
Reason is one of our gods, maybe our chief god. Reason gives us good things: cures for polio, scarlet fever, and smallpox; air conditioning; electric lights; toasters; iPhones; video games; weather forecasts; non-wrinkle fabrics; insecticides; cosmetics, etc.
Reason also gives us direction through advice from parents, grandparents, and friends: Get a good education; brush your teeth; don’t talk to strangers; mind me when I tell you to do something; work hard; don’t job hop – people will think you are shiftless.
Then there are people who throw reason to the wind. They write business plans but don’t follow them. They pay for market research before starting a business but only to confirm what they think they already know. They listen to the adage that a very small percentage of new businesses survive, but they proceed anyway.
There are people who listen to the small voice that says, “Start a business to produce a play that will change the world. You can do it.” Call the voice mania.
Mania grows louder and louder, and one day these people decide to pursue The Big Idea. They become true believers and they hassle family, friends, and even casual acquaintances with their mania. They encounter Conventional Man who urges them to not quit their day job and have a back-up plan. A frequent refrain is, “Yes, maybe this idea will work, but Not This Day.”
Nonetheless, the maniac convinces one person, then another, that the The Big Idea isn’t crazy at all. Soon he has a group of followers. One has experience making costumes for a dance studio’s recitals. Otherwise, not one has any experience producing a play, most importantly the person who started the whole thing.
Our maniac begins asking family and friends for money. They give him some. He spends more and more hours pursuing his dream. Then, yes, he quits his day job.
His group of believers by now is comprised of some who actually are motivated by less than pure motives, such as money. Our maniac just can’t believe it. Don’t they get it! They are going to change the world.
Life Beyond Reason is a true story, a memoir.
The maniac is a protagonist who fills the landscape of the memoir. Other characters exist only as types, but we get to know the maniac well. And, yes, he develops. His development is the story.
What Will Readers Get from This Memoir?
Mr. Rhodes writes his memoir as a good friend would tell it to you in front of a roaring fire in a stone fireplace in a log cabin in the north woods in the small hours of the night in the middle of a blizzard. There are only the two of you in the world. Mr. Rhodes rises to this challenge. Few authors could. Few writers can write in a convincingly conversational style.
Readers’ reactions will vary, but there will be reactions. For some readers, a response will be, “This is totally fictional. It could not happen!” For others, an emotion will be, “Darn! He did it. Why can’t I follow my dream?” Few of these people will follow their dreams, and, maybe, that is good. The Society for Human Resource Management says, “In 2013, 81% of U.S. employees reported overall satisfaction with their current job, unchanged from 2012.” For other people, the story will appear familiar, very familiar. As they read, all readers will wonder, “What happens next?” The story is compelling.
Mr. Rhodes poses an eternal question, “What is it to be alive, truly aware of the mystery?” The greatest minds have asked this question. A view attributed to Socrates is “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Perhaps, down through the millennia, most people never ask the question. It never occurs to them. Maybe they are the lucky ones.
Perhaps in our world of work specialization where many are not connected to the results of labor, perhaps in this world the question stings. In Babbitt, Sinclair Lewis says, “I’ve never done a single thing I’ve wanted to in my whole life!” In Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller says of the salesman, “He never knew who he was.”
Life Beyond Reason is a well written, provocative, memorable, and interesting read. It took courage to write it. Few people have the courage to open themselves up in this manner.
Life Beyond Reason would be more powerful and gripping if it had been written as a novel. A reader would be better able to empathize with the protagonist. The details carrying emotions would be there. What actually happened when the protagonist asked the first person for money that might never be returned? What was the scene? In a well-written novel, more would be shown, not told. Perhaps, a similar effect could be produced in a memoir, but do memoirs lend themselves to more showing than telling?
Life Beyond Reason deserves four stars out of five.