If you’ve ever noticed your stream-of-consciousness thoughts, either through meditation or through being alive and observing what you’re thinking, you’ve probably noticed that you often sound a little crazy inside your head. Thoughts come so quickly, and so unbidden. A transcription of them would reveal a fount of irrationality, emotionality, and impulsivity.

Fortunately, we have the ability to edit much of this out. We curate what we say, what actions we take, and what facial expressions we make. At least we try to.

Novels, too, often edit much of this out. This is generally a good thing. Who’d want to read an endless parade of random thoughts when you’re simply trying to find out what happens next in your book?

However, when novels expose a character’s passing thoughts, the interiority of mind that they reveal can be, well, revelatory.

The 2022 novel Post-Traumatic, by Chantal V. Johnson, is multidimensional and not easily put into a box, but one interesting aspect is its dramatization of the protagonist’s thoughts. Vivian’s thoughts run the gamut: she contemplates family, friends, dating, feminism, racism, abuse, and healing.

Vivian is an unreliable narrator, which makes her thoughts especially interesting. She is a character in the midst of finding her own way, sometimes taking rash and inadvisable actions, sometimes displaying fortitude and bravery, sometimes withdrawing into her own pain, sometimes putting her sense of humor on display. And she has thoughts about all of this. The reader is left alone to sort out what they think of Vivian’s thoughts (and actions).

For example, here are thoughts Vivian has while feeling self-conscious on a first date:

“While speaking she scanned Matthew’s face for romantic interest or at the very least fascination. His eyes were enlarged but she wasn’t sure. It might just be respect.”

This is a bit hard to explain out of context, but within context it is very funny. It’s like, she’s looking for reassurance that she is “winning” the date, or at least not making a fool of herself. In her fantasies, he will fall wildly in love with her, and she will have the option to reject him or not. Who hasn’t had such a fantasy at some point? So she’s talking to him while looking for a sign, maybe a sparkle in his eyes that will reveal that he’s mad for her, despite only knowing her for a few minutes. And then the kicker: “It might just be respect.”

Ha! Just respect? When the reader stops and thinks, they realize that, actually, in the first few minutes of meeting someone, respect is one of the best signs that someone might be a good partner, much better than an elaborate show of adoration. I mean, there’s even a song about it. R-E-S-P-E-C-T, you know? And all of this takes on deeper layers of meaning when the reader considers that Vivian is Black and Puerto Rican, while Matthew is White.

Post-Traumatic is about a woman recovering from childhood abuse, but it’s about so much more than that. I recommend this book for its wit, its introspection and psychological complexity, and the way it somehow encapsulates a whole life within a handful of entertaining and interesting scenes.

What unspoken thoughts have you had lately?