“Gorilla and the Bird” by Zack McDermott

Rolling Stone

Zack McDermott chronicles his psychotic/manic and depressive episodes in Gorilla and the Bird: A Memoir of Madness and a Mother’s Love. The author, a public defender, takes readers through his psychosis. It’s the raw, hard, truth of his experience and is difficult to read because, being bipolar myself, I could relate.

He describes his various experiences of going to the hospital and ending up in the psych ward. His stays sound frightening because my own experience with psych wards is tamer. For example, I’ve never had a nurse say to me, “I’m not a mental patient” (Loc. 2632) The context is irrelevant. The fact that the nurse said this is unacceptable.

McDermott also writes about growing up in Kansas. Gorilla is the nickname his mother gave him because of his size and the hair on his back. McDermott’s mom is the Bird, so named because her neck movements resemble a bird’s.

I have to be honest. I had a tough time reading the interactions with his mom. He doesn’t ever call her “Mom,” just “Bird” throughout the book. I realize that the word “mom” is a social construct, but I still found it weird that the author addresses his mom by a nickname. Also, their relationship was wonky to me — I got something like a sexual vibe from it. Even the author states, “I had a grand Oedipal complex” (Loc. 3578).

Also relatable (to me) is McDermott’s low self-esteem. At one point he says he might as well have “a permanent rubber stamp that I was a certified fuckup” (Loc. 3206). This type of declaration appears more than once.

Though, as I said, parts of this book can be difficult to read, I highly recommend it.

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