Book Review: The Death of Small Creatures


Trisha Cull. 240 pgs, Nightwood Editions, $22.95 

Victoria-based writer and poet Trisha Cull lays her soul bare in this jarringly beautiful memoir detailing her struggles with bulimia, bipolar disorder, and substance abuse along with her subsequent hospitalizations and electroshock treatments. “For years my life has been a nightmare,” she tells us, and her story is surely not an easy read by any means. To cope with her ongoing depression, she gets high on a cocktail of NeoCitran, Ativan, and Wellbutrin, and eventually experiments with crack and crystal meth. When those don’t work, she turns to cutting and self-harm as a way to find solace and emotional release as she continues to fall apart. As she spirals even further into dissociative episodes, her relationships with her friends and family begin to suffer: her marriage ends and she is admitted to hospital.

The book brings together excerpts from blog posts, journal entries, letters, and clinical notes collected from the last ten years, all of which are woven together by Cull’s exquisite dream-like prose. The writing is lyrically crafted, both urgent and meandering at the same time. The clinical notes in particular offer brief flashes of objective realism to a work that is otherwise very inwardly focused, providing sterile medical impressions that contrast highly with Cull’s eloquent descriptions of her lived experience of mental illness.

Medical notes like “Impulsive cutting of self” and “Very poor impulse regulation” feel cold and abrasive when read adjacent to her highly expressive journal entries.

The Death of Small Creatures sheds light on the harrowing struggles that individuals with mental health issues face, never glossing over the difficult details. It takes a truly brave individual to provide us with such honest, uncensored reflections, and for that Cull is to be commended. (Melissa Hergott)