book report: Borderline

I will own that I became intrigued by Mishell Baker's Borderline (apparently the first volume of a projected series, The Arcadia Project) mainly on the strength of the protagonist being a woman with borderline personality disorder (BPD; not to be confused with bipolar disorder, which, despite having a similar arrangement of letters, should not be abbreviated that way [1]). In Borderline, Millie, once a budding film director, is rebuilding her life after making a suicide attempt that resulted in her legs being amputated (she jumped and lived). It turns out that "rebuilding her life" means signing on with the Arcadia Project, which recruits unusual people to help enforce the Accords between the fae and human realms. But the initial assignment given her, meant to test her suitability for the project, turns complicated when a Sidhe goes missing.

[1] Full disclosure: I have a diagnosis of bipolar I.

I was surprised that I enjoyed this as much as I did, given that it contains a number of tropes and elements that I am usually hostile to or actively bored by. There was a point in time when I was interested in novels that dealt with Faerie, but I burned out on them a long time ago. While some of the fae in this novel are entertaining, the whole deal with the Sidhe's unearthly beauty and flightiness didn't do much for me.

Given that the novel takes place around Los Angeles and Millie's background as a young director, Hollywood and Hollywood connections play a large part. I am also largely bored by Hollywood. Once in a while I look up an actor or TV show on IMDB and that's pretty much the extent of it.

And I am especially, especially done with the whole trope of muses. One of the key ideas in this novel is that all human creativity is sourced from contact with Faerie, which I personally find depressing beyond belief. Because the novel focuses on Hollywood, the kind of creativity referenced is usually movie-making, acting, art; there's a couple stray references that inventors also have fae muses. Human-fae partnerships are apparently tremendously fruitful for both parties (your counterpart in the other realm is called an Echo), as fae fuel creativity while humans provide, for lack of a better term, organizational skills--the ability to remember and do mathematics and so on. I honestly would have been far more interested in what the fae were getting from the partnership, but no, the focus was on the creativity magic, which, whatever. As someone with a math degree, I also think that people in STEM fields are getting short shrift--e.g. pure mathematics is in fact a highly creative endeavor; you are literally creating structures out of pure thought. I often think (and this is probably an unpopular opinion) that in some sense being a mathematician is more creative than being a sf writer. But I could be wrong; maybe in later books we'll find out about engineers and their Echoes.

While there is a reasonably logical rationale given for the Arcadia Project recruiting people with mental illnesses, as someone with a mental illness, the whole "band of crazy people doing things together because of their weird, special, crazy way of seeing the world" trope makes me tired. (Full disclosure: I also passionately hate Kay Redfield Jamison's Touched with Fire, but that's an entire post in itself.) It's really a credit to Baker's bravura characterizations that I was able to continue reading this at all; I won't lie, I almost put the book down about fifty pages in because I was very wary. What saves this from being awful is that while Millie is messed-up, she's also extremely compelling, and Baker treats her with compassion without flinching from her nastier traits.

The book remains a fun and relatively fast read, although I enjoyed the first half more than the second, when all the dominoes start falling down. Part of my problem with the latter part of the book was the apparently arbitrary way that information got shared. I get that Millie is in a trial period and they don't want to tell her all the top secret stuff straight off, but as the book progresses, a lot of things happen that could have been prevented by someone with the organizational skills of a bright high schooler putting together a two-page handout of procedures and Things to Know About the Fae, and it stretched my ability to take the plot seriously.

Overall, I don't regret reading the book. It was a fun way to pass a few hours. But I am not sure I'm going to seek out the sequel when it comes out.

Please note that I have no comment on the specific portrayal of BPD, which is a mental illness whose existence I know about, but that's it. In fact, I largely find BPD confusing; I remember asking a former therapist what the difference between it and bipolar disorder was because some of the symptoms look like they overlap. Said therapist told me that the two disorders are definitely distinct but wasn't able to explain it in a way that made sense to me. Which is fine, because I'm not a psychiatric professional. I also have no comment on the portrayal of disability--Millie is a double amputee and gets around both with prosthetics and a wheelchair. If anyone who does know about that wants to weigh in, I'm all ears.

Another note: Given that Millie is the survivor of a suicide attempt, this may be triggery for some readers. I'm damn near impossible to trigger with fictional depictions of suicide so I'm not the best judge, but if you have specific questions and want me to spoil you, I can try to answer them. There are also other depictions of self-harm.

Thank you, lovely patrons! I hope you enjoyed this book report. Next up is probably either Mary Roach's Grunt or Kat Howard's Roses and Rot. We'll see.