Two-Headed Dog by Mitch Grabois
What do we have here? Mitch Grabois shows how to effectively use the ‘first-person’ narrative. That’s one. In ‘Two-Headed Dog’ he does more than simply show a perspective. He offers a look into the mind of someone trying to help the mentally ill. Hank comes across looking rather confused himself. For much of the book he’s doing more than simply finding Tiffany. He goes over his entire life and interactions.
The book looks into Hank’s mind more than the minds of his patients. Apparently Hank sacrificed a lot for a little. Lost friends and family to his decision to help others in a run-down hospital, he questions himself constantly. Many asides in his brain indicate his ability to think through problems both rationally and irrationally. A few moments show him as being somewhat socially awkward, naïve, and unable to cope with the reality at hand. Mitch seems to suggest that perhaps Hank’s existence in a place that’s not his natural habit (Hank is originally from California) has contributed to this decline.
Part I deal with Hank exclusively within his own mind. We learn through his meticulously well-kept journal. The journal is a coping mechanism of Hank’s. He writes about other patients and their distractions from reality. Since the journal is heavily edited we do not learn as much about Hank’s insecurities. Eventually we leave the journal and head on off into a normal day to day routine of Hank’s. Here’s where we learn about the innermost worries and concerns in his mind. Hank lives in his head. No matter where he is he simply has a difficult time seeing things from other people’s point of view. Though, to be fair, he does begin to gradually understand the world around him.
For the finale Hank loses it. Here’s where it becomes difficult to tell the difference between reality and fantasy. Mitch shows the decline in Hank’s mind. By this point Hank is rather beaten down. The spirit is broken. Parts of it feel dream-like, positively bizarre when compared to what precedes it. Can we even trust what Hank says anymore? Or do we even want to see what madness Hank is capable of. The focus shifts away from Hank as an employee of FLOPSIE and more of a person trying to cope with his own insecurities. Tiffany’s character and behavior is described in much more detail.
Mental health musings make up the meat and potatoes of the novel. Is it worth it to maintain one’s religion in such a difficult environment? Do we turn towards such outside forces when our own life is chaos? Mitch shows this through Hank, Hank’s friends, co-workers, and even ex-spouse. Or are the characters right: is it pointless to even have such prohibitive, restrictive environments to improve the lives of others, or does it create a holding pattern. Mitch offers the questions. It’s up to the readers to interpret the solutions.