Calvin: A Novel About Schizophrenia With Hobbes
Out next month is a fascinating novel by Martine Leavitt. Calvin is the story of a 17-year-old, born on the last day of the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip and coincidentally named to match, who’s convinced Bill Watterson can fix his life. Calvin has just been diagnosed with schizophrenia, and hearing the voice of an imaginary tiger is one of his symptoms.
After his hospitalization, he finds a mission. “I just need Bill Watterson to make one more comic strip — only one more comic strip, or even just one panel, of Calvin at age seventeen, healthy and well, with no Hobbes in it.” He’s searching for a way to make sense of what has happened to his brain, some outside factor that could put everything back the way it used to be. If a comic shaped his life so far this way, making him “pathologically imaginative”, maybe a new comic could change its direction now.
Only the way he decides to go about it is kind of crazy. He decides to hike from Canada across the frozen Lake Erie to meet Mr. Watterson in Ohio. His best childhood friend, Susie, accompanies him, although lately, as teens, they’ve grown apart, maturing at different ages.
Calvin is a clever, powerful story that uses a fondly remembered shared reading experience to give us entree into a complicated subject. It all takes place in his head, showing us his thoughts and the voices he hears, providing insight into a misunderstood condition. It’s also an adventure story, as Calvin and Susie’s hike is life-threatening in a different way from his mental diagnosis.
I could sympathize with his desire to make a grand gesture to get noticed, and fans have done wild things with the hope of getting just one more installment of a favorite piece of pop culture. Heck, many movies and TV projects these days are based around that kind of nostalgia. But it’s the relationship between Calvin and Susie that will stick with me after reading. Well worth your time to check this out. (The publisher provided an advance digital review copy.)