Book Review: Stumbling in CrazyTown (Peggy Gerber)

I received a free proof copy of Stumbling in CrazyTown from the author (Peggy Gerber) in exchange for an honest review.

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Goodreads rating: 4 stars

Peggy Gerber is a poet and writer of short stories, whose work has been featured in over 80 publications. Stumbling in CrazyTown has been published by Dark Myth Publications after Peggy won their 2021 Open Contract Challenge.

The main themes of this collection are mental illness, relationships, and recovery. I want to thank Peggy for producing this chapbook, not only for her bravery, but also because sharing lived experience contributes massively to tackling ongoing stigma against mental illness.

Welcome to CrazyTown! Open the pages of this brutally honest poetry chapbook and stumble along with Peggy Gerber as she takes readers on an emotional journey through mental illness and back again.

Experience what it feels like to have fallen into a hole so deep you think you’ll never come out, but then you emerge stronger and wiser. Examines what happens as people habitually compare themselves to others, but then learn to love themselves for who they are. Encounter that tyrant, Dr. Google, a harbinger of health anxiety for millions around the world, but then banish him away. to return to your physical and mental equilibrium. Explore how to reframe a catastrophic event and transform it into something manageable. But most importantly, learn how to speak openly about your feelings and not be ashamed.

Help and hope are running themes throughout Stumbling in CrazyTown, as you navigate the peaks and valleys of living with depression and anxiety. The time has come to banish the stigma against mental illness.

Stumbling in CrazyTown (blurb)

Peggy kicks off the book with an admission of sorts. In “The Unpretentious Poet”, she warns the reader that her poetry tends to lean towards the literal rather than the metaphorical. Having read the book, I agree with her analysis. As such, I think this introductory poem works to facilitate access to poetry for readers who may feel like they don’t “get” poetry. I would say I sometimes fall into this category. I love poetry that requires more reading between the lines, but I also appreciate that this more literal approach helps to reach an often forgotten section of the poetry audience.

The poems vary in style and length, which I found engaging. When a collection is compiled of very similar poems, I can become bored and lose interest. This variation kept my attention and gave me something new to look forward to on every page.

I particularly enjoyed “Love Letter to Myself”, where Peggy illustrates the internal conversation between herself and her depression and low self-esteem. I found this almost debate-style poem very powerful, as I relate to the battle between myself and my inner critic. I’m sure many of us do.

Peggy’s use of humour in poems such as “Dear Dr. Google” and “My Super-Secret Superpower” adds a great deal to the collection. We often forget that those of us who live with mental illness are not necessarily humourless empty shells with no personality aside from our illness. I think Peggy does a great job of combining the seriousness of the subjects with flickers of humour to foster a feeling of authenticity.

Hang on a minute…

My readers may be confused by this point – you’re raving about this book, why only 4 stars?

Well firstly, 4-stars is an excellent rating. Secondly, there were just a few things about this book that I would have liked to have seen executed slightly differently.

I have great admiration for Peggy’s positive attitude and warrior-like stance in her battle with mental illness. Nevertheless, I did find myself pulling back from certain poems, such as “The Ted Talk” and “How to Reframe a Catastrophe”, as I felt that they veered a little too close to toxic positivity for my liking.

I appreciate that Peggy’s journey of recovery focused heavily on pushing through and identifying areas for gratitude. However, “The Ted Talk”, whilst praising the resilience of a quadruple amputee, includes the lines “Our society makes it so easy to fall into the trap / of feeling sorry for ourselves, / experience anxiety and depression”. I feel that this feeds into the concept that mental illness is “less than” physical illness, and if this physically disabled man can “overcome” his disability and depression, then anyone should be able to. I get the intention behind the words, but I think it unintentionally adds to the stigma of mental illness being a choice, whilst also getting dangerously close to “inspiration p*rn”. I don’t for a second think this was the intention of the author, but nevertheless, it’s there.

To conclude, Peggy’s mission behind this collection is to share her own lived experience and offer hope to others. I believe she achieved this goal. I think Stumbling in CrazyTown is an excellent collection of heartfelt poems, and I thank Peggy for giving me the opportunity to read and review it.

I’ll leave you with a quote from my favourite poem in the book, “I Live in the Woods”:

“I live in the woods now,

it is not where I chose to live,

but it’s okay.”

“I Live in the Woods” (Peggy Gerber)

Content warnings for suicide (graphic), suicidal thoughts, grief/loss, child abuse, neglect, homelessness, and other related topics.

Have you read this book? Have a comment about my review? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

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