Protagonist Peter Mitchell, an aspiring writer, wanders through life feeling lost and helpless. After the untimely death of his brother, he channeled some of his grief into writing a book called Invisible Pain but feels conflicted over finding minor success over the “commercialization” of his brother’s death. A visit to the site of his brother’s passing away sends Peter into a depressive spiral, resulting in Peter deciding to spend the night drinking, getting into a bar fight, and then destroying a fancy billboard in his grief.
Author Ben Manhan does a great job setting Peter up to be sympathized with by the reader, a feat that could take several chapters in a full-length novel but is done quickly here in just a few pages of this short story. Peter’s inner thoughts show us how close he was to his brother, Kevin, feeling as if he was the only one who understood and supported him. His self-loathing runs deep, which might make other protagonists seem pathetic, but the reader understands where Peter is coming from.
After being arrested, he’s brought before the woman whose billboard he destroyed and falls apart when she inadvertently quotes the title of his book about Kevin. “Invisible pain. We all have some,” she says while interrogating Peter over his motives. She offers Peter a chance to escape–not just punishment, but escape from his inner demons–and he finds himself in a science-fiction sort of room where a program called MindGap promises to help him turn his life around.
Ultimately, this story is about what we want, and the steps we do or don’t take to achieve our goals. Would you do anything to be successful, even lose a part of yourself? Are you certain about what you want, or do secret, unacknowledged desires linger beneath the surface? Is happiness tied to the achievement of success? For a short, just under 70-page story, Ben Manhan intriguingly explores this, leaving me musing over philosophical questions long after I’d finished reading the book. Perhaps it will do the same for you as well.
Disclaimer: I received an ARC from Reedsy Discovery for free and read it on my 10th generation Kindle Oasis. I was not paid for a positive review, and all opinions are my own. This review was originally written for Reedsy Discovery. The original review is here.
Author: Ben Manhan
Publication Date: 15 February 2022
Print Length: 66 pages
Marie’s Rating: 5 out of 5 stars