The most apt description of Patrick Downes’ Ten Miles One Way is that it’s an arduous read – not because of his prose but because of the subject.
The American author’s third book takes you on a long journey, but it’s one you’ll be glad to make.
It follows a girl named Nest, who is bipolar, and her on again-off again boyfriend Q, as they take a 10-mile walk across town. We first meet the couple in a hospital after she’s wrecked their car. Q begins writing down anything he can remember from their trek but that’s just half of the walk because he doesn’t know how they got home.
It’s a short book, just 208 pages, but because it’s divided into a chapter for each mile they traverse, Ten Miles One Way feels like a longer book.
Q’s thoughts appear in one print style and the recollections of Nest in another. But you always know when you’re reading Nest, anyway: her words shudder and stutter across the page like her thoughts. Sentences stream at you but stop abruptly, unfinished.
She describes her condition, saying she feels a Chimaera within her, a mythical three-headed, fire- breathing beast with the heads of a lion, goat and snake and their various parts making up its body.
The creature causes Nest to rage when it takes over. To silence its violence, she walks to the point of exhaustion, until her thoughts once again are only hers. It’s a trick she learned from her father, who himself experiences an emotional state he calls the Angers, which possesses his body in the form of a Minotaur, another mythical monster, this one part man and part bull.
As Nest and Q walk, Downes sprinkles the stories she tells Q with titbits from the real world, of celebrated Scottish pedestrian Robert Barclay Allardice and of Dave Kunst, the first person independently verified as having walked around the world. She also tells him juicy details of their town’s past and tall tales of serial killers who rent hotel rooms in secret.
Q lets us know that the walk he’s writing about happened three years ago, when they were 17. By that age, he’d known Nest for four years. Nest was the first girl he’d thought was beautiful – and infuriating. Specifically, because she’d initially told him her name was spelled with a silent “p”, like in pneumatic and he’d believed her. Nest found his gullibility amusing at the time.
Q reminds me of my own father and his siblings, who loved their mother in spite of her personality swings. I never knew my paternal grandmother but I’m told she was probably bipolar. Stories of her abound in my family, of when she was convivial, sparkling, and the life of any party; and of the times when she’d lock herself in her room and wouldn’t be seen for days.
The elder siblings would keep what was happening from the younger ones. “Mummy can’t play right now. She’s resting.” Then, as suddenly as it began, Gran would be back to being herself, returning to living and loving life and cherishing her family once again.
Therapy wasn’t an option back then, as any mental health issue meant you were crazy. For Nest, however, we learn that her parents have indeed taken her to several therapists, with varying results. But it’s her father’s lesson, after he finds his young daughter unable to sleep, that has been the most successful.
Ten Miles One Way is really the story of a mental breakdown, but it’s a story about love too. Q truly loves Nest and is in love with her. His unconditional support and strong, silent type behaviour shows that the best part of a relationship sometimes isn’t about trying to fix the other person. It’s about listening to what they’re saying without judgement.
Ten Miles One Way
Author: Patrick Downes
Publisher: Philomel Books, young adult fiction