Bipolar Bare is a harrowing but hopeful account of abuse, drug addiction, and mental illness.
In his autobiography, Bipolar Bare, Carlton Davis recounts the tumultuous history of his life. Told in bits and pieces, Davis’ troubled childhood sets the foundation for his hardship to come. He is caught between problematic parents and, as result, finds himself in a variety of unsavory situations. As he moves into adulthood, Davis fights to survive and build healthy relationships, grappling both with a dangerous crack addiction and bipolar manic depression. The combination of these two conditions account for the most heart wrenching period of Davis’ life, to which most of the book is devoted. It isn’t all doom and gloom though. Davis manages to find pockets of peace by looking inward, turning to art, and seeking out professional support that ultimately saves his life.

Bipolar Bare has a lot to offer to a wide range of audiences. First and foremost, the book’s title is no understatement in that it offers a brutally transparent account of what living with a bipolar disorder can look like. The grit of this depiction, in addition to Davis’ portrayal of a life of abuse and addiction, dually serves to educate readers looking to understand these afflictions and offer hope to those struggling with the issues themselves. Readers who fall into neither camp, but love a compelling exploration of the human condition are far from left out. The book’s prose stands on its own, but is further enriched by Davis’ grimly beautiful illustrations, which set the autobiography apart from others of its kind. His visual depiction of his experience adds another dimension to our apprehension of the world through his eyes, better suiting us to understand the life he has lived.

The chaotic rhythm of the several, disjointed phases of Davis’ life is brilliantly accentuated by his stylistic choice to defy chronology and jump across time. The book opens with Davis relapsing just after returning home from a mental institution — a perfect way to poignantly establish our expectations. It isn’t until some chapters later that he gets into his childhood. From there, the book is written in disordered vignettes which demonstrate Davis’ clever insistence on a more emotive, thematic organization of ideas. In this way, we sense the chaotic, disjointed, disordered nature of Davis’ experience. This device makes us that much more receptive to the emotionality of Davis’ otherwise sardonic efforts to find empathy in himself, another standout feature of the memoir. He struggles to love himself and to love others, and, even coming from different backgrounds, we find something universal in his pleas for common humanity. It’s, at times, difficult to read, and we’re all the better for his gracious, however dark, comedic timing. Bipolar Bare is not for the faint of heart; but, if you wish to immerse yourself in the troubled beauty of humanity, it is for you.