Verdict: MAYS LANDING is an honest and captivating character study about mental illness told with both humor and heart.
After a botched suicide attempt, a medical school dropout becomes a human lab rat in order to scrape out a new existence for himself.
Hopeless and apathetic, former medical school student Parkhill Mays wakes up following an unsuccessful attempt at taking his own life. In New York City’s Bellevue Hospital, he meets T-Bone, a free-spirited, anti-establishment homeless man who sees a familiarity in Mays’ longing for escape. He pulls Mays into a world he never knew existed—a bleak, yet promising underground where he is able to live beneath the streets and sell his body to the field he once studied. While he becomes a willing test subject for the latest health products and medicines to pay for his meager life, Mays continues to grapple with mental illness and finding a true sense of purpose.
The most compelling part of MAYS LANDING is Mays’ own narration of his story. His voice is distinct; his sense of humor is pitch-perfect next to the often desperate, miserable thoughts he has about his life. His sarcasm is real, and his heartbreak is true, which makes it easy to root for him to succeed or become frustrated when he has a misstep. Mays’ character arc is intense and cleverly written with a heavy dose of irony that seems so pervasive throughout the novel. Mercer dares to take his protagonist and the rest of his characters to dark places—repeatedly hitting rock bottom before rising just above the surface again.
The novel’s cast is just as diverse as the city they live in, each one carrying their own memorable qualities and vibrant voices. From the loving, hopeful romantic interest Audrey to T-Bone, a surrogate father-figure, everyone has a role to play in Mays’ journey. J.C. Mercer writes them with a skillful hand, showing a talent for witty banter, emotional confrontations, and life-affirming observations. All of Mays’ interactions help in his character development—a change that comes subtly over time and not without struggle.
Mays’ primary struggle is an ongoing battle with depression. His narration on the subject is introspective, gritty, and raw. He is self-aware—painfully so—but also drowning in his own hopelessness. Through Mays, Mercer explores the realities of mental illness; the destruction and desperation it can cause, the looming paranoia of relapse, and the fleeting moments of clarity amid the uphill battle to find meaning in one’s life. It is a stark look at a subject that isn’t always understood.
MAYS LANDING is an honest and captivating character study about mental illness told with both humor and heart.