It works, but at a price and not a monetary one. Justine finds herself working for Packard but she has serious misgivings about the nature of the job. She's charged with "injecting" her own neurosis into people predisposed to suffer from hypochondria. These injections of fear and panic -- the titular mind games -- serve to disillusion those people in the world who feel entitled to destroy others and who get away with it. These murderers and con artists, once disillusioned, go from feeling invincible to extreme panic and imbalance. The specific disillusionment varies for each target. Justine has colleagues, also working for Packard, who can "zing" targets with ennui, gambling or alcohol addictions, weltschmerz, and so forth.
The initial promise is that Justine, by administering these quanta of anxiety, can free herself from her own insanity. And it all works just as it should . . . until it gets too complicated to be described here. So, go read the book. And then you too can be awash with panic about how long we have to go before the next book in the series. (See how Carolyn Crane has infected all of us with this panic? More Mind Games. Bwa-haha...)
I had a profound reaction to this book for two reasons. First, because I have the teeniest amount possible of mental acuity myself. I "read" people. No, nothing like The Mentalist. I can't read minds or tell while blindfolded what object someone is holding up. But on a relatively small amount of information, I can tell a lot about a person. It's not that great an ability to have; learning to temper my remarks when a friend asks for advice is an on-going process, as is keeping my mouth shut when they haven't asked for my advice.
I need to say a couple things here. First, I did nothing to acquire or hone this skill; it's the result of a Bad Childhood, the kind of upbringing that I've also learned people don't really want to know the details of. Second, it ought to be an awesome skill to have in a lot of jobs, but again, not so much. It ought to help me be a better writer and it's not quite having that effect.
All that is beside the point, except to explain why Mind Games totally blew my mind. I had no trouble accepting the other-worldly elements, like DNA that produces a tofu-like mutation children can shape into whatever skill they most want, like telekinesis so that a toy just out of reach is suddenly close at hand. Yup, I can buy that.
Here's the other thing about reading Mind Games. Crane herself shifted in my perceptions. It's a wonderful book -- good enough a debut novel that she transmogrified in my head from Nice Person on Twitter to A Real Author. It was like an instantaneous Plexiglas shield sprang up between us; she was no longer someone dwelling on the same plane as I do.
This isn't a nice linear issue. I don't want to write this sort of book, nor is it too hard to see how it was plotted and laid out. I might even be able to find a tiny filament of fault somewhere, as if that would show me she's not really Harry Houdini while I'm still practicing with a magic kit purchased from an ad in the back of my comic book. I suspect she has bad hair days, or gets grumpy just like the rest of us. And who knows, maybe I write well too.
No, this is my mishegas, my insanity. I have written earlier on the Reader-Author Barrier, and my experience with Mind Games is another variation on that theme. Because I went from casual acquaintance on Twitter to reader, my perception of Carolyn Crane also changed. She's now the author, and as such is entitled to some psychic distance from readers. I tease my friends on Twitter (yes, I'll say it: I twit them) and they tease me back. But I wouldn't contact an author -- even one with a book as good as Mind Games -- and presume to behave as if I know her.
I am not postulating some rule of reader etiquette, or authorial responsibility. Because this is about inchoate judgments, it must surely vary from person to person. I can imagine other ways for reader-bloggers to behave; this is just the way I choose for myself. So I contacted Carolyn Crane privately to ask if it was okay to write about her as a person, and not just tangentially as the author of a book I was interested in. She was extraordinarily gracious and had no qualms. And I do know a lot of people who might be horrified that I would suggest an author have the opportunity to affect the content of my blog.
I acted from a selfish sense of my own comfort. I would not be comfortable presuming that I could write about an author as a person -- even if all I know about her is that she got confused one day and is following the wrong Magdalen -- unless I knew her very well, or not at all.
It's in the gray area between "very well" and "not at all" that the moral conundrums arise. That's another thing to be learned from Mind Games.