First Person Plural is a psychological bestseller written by Cameron West that tells an autobiographic story of the author’s struggle with his diagnosis – Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) – which came as a result of repeated sexual abuse when he was a child. West, who became a victim of his mother and grandmother, offers the reader a heart-rending detailed account of the attempts to coexist with his multiple personalities of different gender, ages, background, and character.
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The book begins with rather an unusual introduction called My Guys, in which the author makes us acquainted with his 24 personalities, who are very different from one another. For instance, there is Davy (the first one to appear) – a four-year-old cute and sensitive boy; eight-year-old Clay, who is very shy to look people in the eyes and has speech defects; Switch, who feels furious for being abused; an easy-going, humorous Bart, who is twenty-eight; a twelve-year-old Dusty, who, being a very fragile girl, somehow exists in the body of a grown-up man; Stroll, who is about thirty and emerges as a sexual tool for satisfying women; and many others.
Some of these “guys” appear frequently, others come out only when the therapy takes place. There are core members of the group, who seem to be more influential, and peripheral ones (some of them came only once and were never met again). Several group members merged being emotionally close to each other (West 7).
However strange such a beginning may appear, we later find the narrator in the context of a seemingly happy life: he is a successful businessman in his thirties, who is married to the woman he loves and who has a five-year-old son. The only thing that troubles him is a sinus problem. After several surgeries, he keeps to a diet and soon feels significantly better. This is the entanglement of the major part of the story. When Cameron’s body recovers, his mind starts bothering him.
He suffers from inattention, poor memory, and timelessness. As a result, after visiting a psychiatrist, he is diagnosed with DID. He goes through the denial stage as he cannot believe that this could happen to him. However, the real disaster (and the climax of the story) breaks out when some of Cameron’s multiple personalities (who are growing in number) start claiming that his grandmother and mother molested him as a child – the episodes that he cannot recollect.
The inquiries he makes reveal that his relatives were aware of the cases of sexual abuse in the family but did their best to conceal this information. Cameron’s wife, Rikki, accuses his mother directly of the crime but the latter leaves the office of the family-run business without any comments.
The reader, who gets deeply engaged in the narrative, feels a kind of false hope that Cameron is going to get better when he leaves for California with his family and starts to undergo treatment in the hospital specializing in DID cases. However, he is gradually getting worse: now and then a new “guy” emerges, which scares his son and wife. Finally, he goes to a hospital in Texas and gets taped there to make sure that he is not insane. When he realizes that his condition is curable, he begins the complex healing process. Things suddenly get better and, having reunited with his family, Cameron even decides to get a Ph.D. in psychology, which he successfully does.
The book is written in the omniscient style: though the author records the events in the first person and participates in most of them, the reader can still witness the episodes that do not involve him. The narrative unwinds logically in a sequence of scenes. The development of the major characters is rather predictable and follows the classical scheme of gradual revelation. The author includes the elements of his daily life, which makes the story credible. The greatest effect on the reader is produced mainly because West is not detached from the plot – on the contrary, he is very passionate and engaged, which compensates for certain flaws in his style.
Perhaps, the biggest weakness of Cameron’s writing is the excessive use of complicated extended metaphors, most of which are hardly comprehensible. Such play upon words and meanings is redundant and makes his light, humorous style look awkward.
First Person Plural is a kind of book that evokes a whole range of mingled feelings. You can enjoy the author’s good spirits and humor, feel hope for him, and others who suffer from the same disease and rejoice at the family reunification. You get genuinely curious when you read the details about this fascinating condition and even try to project it on your psyche. However, at the same time, you feel overwhelmed when you read about the monstrous crimes committed by the boy’s relatives, and it is rather hard to believe that a person, who has experienced multiple cases of sexual molestation from his closest people, can ever get back to normal life.
The first impression is produced by the title. You get puzzled wondering what it should mean (perhaps, there will be a story of two or three people) but, after reading the introduction, you come to guess that the book will tell about numerous alter egos of the same person. At this point, you cannot help establishing associations with Billy Milligan – a famous criminal who was acquitted because of DID. Thus, my second supposition was that the story would tell about a crime committed by the author. Little did I know that it is the author who was the major victim.
When I started comparing the “guys”, I realized that most of them were united by fragile psyche, communicative problems, timidity, and kindness. It gave me a hint that the author himself is a similar kind of person, which immediately made me have a liking for him. However, when I discovered what abominable humiliations he had to go through, I felt deep compassion for him as a small boy from the past and a grown-up man from the present as his whole life was ruined when he recollected what had happened to him.
This feeling of sympathy later gave way to genuine rage against those who could have done such irreparable harm to the innocent child. You feel indignant because you understand that such people often avoid justice and even if they do not, no punishment can be severe enough for them. This made me recollect the recent movie Spotlight – a biographical drama investigating a series of cases when children were sexually abused by Catholic priests.
While watching it, I remember thinking that nothing could be more repulsive and inexcusable than church leaders molesting kids. However, this book made me change my mind: it is much more unimaginable and unaccountable when the same atrocity is committed by your mother. This raises a question about who is more sick – the child, whose life goes wrong after that or the mother, who was initially insane to do such a thing.
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The more you read about this, the more surprising it appears that the author managed to preserve his good spirits, kind heart, and light humor no matter what he had gone through before writing this autobiography. It is also his wife who surprises and inspires respect. It is hard to imagine the power of will and love that could make a young woman sacrifice her dreams and strivings to the man who is so seriously sick and is unlikely to recover.
Besides being happy for Cameron that he had such a supportive intelligent woman near him when he needed her the most, I was happy to know that such people still exist not only in fiction. Their empathetic attitude and participation make you believe that the world is not such a rotten place after all. It is when you come to realize the other meaning of the title: speaking in the first person plural implies that you tell not only your individual story but the story of a lot of people whom you may help making them believe that they are not alone and abandoned and, no matter how hard it may be, some care, which means that there are love and hope.
West, Cameron. First Person Plural. New York, New York: Hyperion, 1999. Print.