Puzzle Pieces

Fiction - Literary
310 Pages
Reviewed on 03/22/2019
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    Book Review

Reviewed by K.C. Finn for Readers' Favorite

Puzzle Pieces is a psychological work of literary fiction penned by author C. J. Mac. The action of the piece focuses on Ann Caldwell, who begins the tale as a suicidal woman certain that death is the only way out. When that way is blocked by Ann being institutionalized and treated in a psychiatric unit, her journey back through her own psyche can truly begin. Stuck amongst suffers of all kinds of mental aberrations, traumas and painful experiences, Ann begins to unlock the secrets and trials of her own past, and discover how they led her to this moment. Amongst all this, questions of what it really means to be ‘normal’ are asked, and the human condition is explored from this uniquely brilliant angle.

I found this story akin to One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, but with all the Hollywood humor stripped away and the real, raw experiences of true people kept in. Author C. J. Mac does a particularly marvellous job expressing the reality of these characters despite some of their strange ways of thinking and the unusual life experiences which they have been through, making us as readers deeply connected to Ann and the friends she makes along her journey. The connection of title to plot is very clever, because it makes us view humans as incomplete and individually unique, even though we all look similar from a distance. Overall, Puzzle Pieces is a well-considered and well-written book that will absorb its readers and teach them something new about life.

Joel R. Dennstedt

What lurks on almost every page of C.J. Mac’s indelible tale of mental breakdown and painful, slow recovery, Puzzle Pieces, while remaining somewhat elusive, often invisible, and definitely in hiding from her central character, Ann Caldwell, is the self-destructive notion ingrained in human beings that we are somehow tweaked from normal, and though perhaps not alone, we feel unique enough to warrant keeping our worst facets of abnormality unshared and unrevealed. Each shameful secret becomes the missing piece of a puzzle incomplete and misunderstood. The big picture goes unresolved. A sad irony: there is no normal, except the horrid feeling that we are not. Especially in relationship with one another. “She wondered if she would ever be able to accept incidental encounters as a ‘gift’ and not some sort of personal test of her resiliency.”

C.J. Mac’s fiction sounds like non-fiction and her memoir-feeling novel, Puzzle Pieces, reads like one person’s coming to know that while she may be quite unique, she is by no means abnormal. The subtle truth behind such life-supporting understanding derives equally from the “crazies” Ann meets during her involuntary commitment and the professional who treats her after her release, but also from several casually encountered strangers, and one strong, deeply loyal friend. The reader benefits from a continual, intimate acquaintance with Ann’s most personal thoughts, memories, conjectures, and self-directed admonitions. So doing, one hears the familiar echoes of many similar internal dialogues. Rooting for Ann’s success in rising from depression into conscious daily living becomes vital encouragement for oneself. Perhaps without conscious intent, C.J. Mac offers a viable pathway for us all by showing how the puzzle pieces may finally fit together in the end.

Jane Finch

Puzzle Pieces by C. J. Mac tells the story of Ann Caldwell whose life has spiraled downhill and out of her control, and she finds herself once again in a psychiatric hospital as her condition is evaluated. There she encounters other patients and, while initially shying away from them and their problems, finds herself sympathetic to their own stories and finds that she is not alone in her struggles. Having been in the unit before she knows what to expect, but her short stay of just a few days influences her in a way she had not expected. Two people enter her life and guide her in her recovery, and she surprises herself as she journeys to cope and recover from her situation.

The author, C. J. Mac, clearly has a knowledge of psychiatric care, resulting in the authenticity of not just the surroundings Ann finds herself in, but also with the other characters and staff. The story is reminiscent of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest with the setting and especially the staff. Well written, the story becomes an experience as the reader shares Ann’s feelings, fears and emotions. The characters are well developed and colourful and, again, seem authentic. This book certainly leaves the reader rooting for Ann and wanting her to recover. Cleverly interwoven into the book is the backstory providing credibility to Ann’s actions that have led to her hospitalization. Well done to C. J. Mac for her empathy which is clearly reflected in her writing. The book is also about self-belief, forgiveness, and the importance of good friendships and trust.