Just in Time
by Joan L. Jackson

She Writes Press, 2017. ISBN 978-1-631-52264-2.
Reviewed by Ann McCauley
Posted on 01/24/2018

Fiction: Mainstream

Joan L. Jackson has written an important and realistic novel about schizophrenia and its impact on a family. The protagonist, 48-year-old Steve, is likable and almost too honest. When his father suddenly dies, after his mother's passing several years earlier, Steve's older sister, Sylvia, reluctantly becomes his long-distance care giver. She lives in Los Angeles while he lives in the family home in Silver Lake, Ohio. Steve was a track star in high school and college, but then schizophrenia stole his dreams at age twenty-two. Track ends for him, as well as most other things taken for granted as normal life.

Having worked for many years as a psychiatric registered nurse I can attest that Steve is one lucky schizophrenic. I certainly never had a patient who had anything close to the involvement of Sylvia and their younger brother, Scott, for Steve. Their parents always included Steve in their family life, setting an exemplary standard for the siblings, for when the parents were gone.

The characters were well developed, and the plot, though simple, kept the story moving with brisk pacing throughout the novel. Its strength was the depictions of Steve's symptoms and thought processes.

The decision to leave Steve in the family home in Ohio was recommended by his psychologist as long as he had someone living with him. Sylvia's husband's older sister, Nancy, needs a place to live and an arrangement is made. She and her small dog move into their parents' bedroom only five days after their father's funeral. This abrupt change is a major adjustment for Steve.

Sylvia and her brothers agree to provide Nancy with room and board, as well as grocery money. She agrees to cook one meal a day, monitor Steve's medications to make sure he takes them every day, and keep up with light housework and laundry. After a few weeks, Nancy takes liberties and hides changes in the home from Sylvia. These events eventually lead to a deterioration of Steve's condition. Symptoms of confusion, disorientation, paranoia and reclusiveness lead to a psychotic episode and a hospitalization that Steve dreads.

Family dynamics can be complicated enough without throwing in a serious mental illness. Compassion threads through Just in Time as the devoted siblings are there for their brother, time and time again. However, it is not presented as an easy task; plenty of tension and stress are evident throughout the novel.

Steve often asks his sister, "How come you always get here just in time?" (Thus the title of the book.) And truly she does. I recommend Just in Time for anyone who is facing a similar situation or wants to know what chronic mental illness is really like. Obviously there is no easy fix.

Joan Jackson grew up in Ohio. After teaching French for a time, she went on to manage a French-Tahitian export company in Oregon. She is the author of 'Voluntary Chaos' and has published several magazine articles and written a collection of short stories. Jackson spends ten weeks annually in her childhood home in Silver Lake, Ohio, caretaking and managing the home for her schizophrenic brother, who lives alone. She and her husband reside in Los Angeles, California.

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