I must admit that Ana Tewson-Božić’s Crumbs did not sound appealing to me as a reader, as I tend to avoid everything science-fiction. However, I was keen to read all of the Spotlight stories, in part to see how they differ. The protagonist of this short story is a teenage girl named Julja, whose ‘games take a serious turn as she becomes inducted into a computer cult. The surge of dopamine in her brain connects her with psychic aliens and chemical conspiracies, sordid and secret.’
On the whole, the plot sounded strange to me, but I did admire the way in which the author uses it as a frame to explore psychosis. Tewson-Božić herself has spent ‘significant time in mental institutions’, and has been diagnosed with schizo-affective disorder. She explores the darker side of mental health, says reviewer John O’Donoghue, ‘in a kind of distressed, demented prose which from time to time lets in shafts of reality…’.
Tewson-Božić’s writing, indeed, is strange, and quite beguiling. At the outset of the story, she writes: ‘In this place, I see heaven. I am buoyed by the souls of the relatives in their homes around me, buoyed by the fact that they’d known and liked me. With these powers, I see fragile bodies rise through a church steeple and crumble into ash against the ceiling. I see great alien eyes and tongues of steely poison poised to greet us at our deaths. They see me back and I never felt so much terror.’
Throughout Crumbs, the prose follows a similar structure, and I found that a lot of elements of the story – as well as the plot as a whole – made little sense. There is barely any cohesion within it, and at points I had no idea what was happening. This may be a good representation of what one feels when suffering with psychosis, but it alienated me as a reader.
Crumbs has been split into very short sections. As I have mentioned above, these are rather abstract. Tewson-Božić certainly plays on different literary forms throughout her story, but these are not tied together at all. Part of the story is narrated from a bed on a psychiatric ward; other sections seem to deal with Julja’s absorption into the cult: ‘At some point the sleep deprivation and the journey into a world beyond my means, blew out my brains and I was taken.’
I am sure that Crumbs will find its audience, but for me the story felt a little too fragmented to make any sense. When the story moves from Earth into space, I was lost completely. At no point did I feel connected to the story, or to its protagonist. Whilst some of the prose did intrigue me – for instance, ‘I woke up standing in the middle of the park clutching a Jack of Hearts with an eye scrawled on it in marker. I was looking at the stars and spinning.’ – these sections ended abruptly, were not elaborated upon, and I was still left none the wiser. Crumbs is well written, but the plot felt chaotic at times. I suppose that Tewson-Božić’s story could be seen as illuminating in its way, providing a window into mental illness, but I would have preferred something a little more cohesive and connected.