The Year of Release

Guista, Michael

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony
  • Date of entry: Sep-13-2005
  • Last revised: Jan-21-2010


A college professor who suffers from Tourette's disorder deals with two challenging students in his English 101 class. Having spent years in therapy, Professor Jorge is now fairly content with his life in spite of the frequent vocal and motor tics that he labors to suppress. Allen Ramsey is the freshman prodigy who induces Jorge to reassess the implications of his existence. Anna is an undergraduate who is preoccupied with death. She has a crush on Jorge and leaves a suicide note in his office box.

One day Allen is late for class because he has a seizure. His seizures increase in frequency, but Allen doesn't mind them. He relishes them. Allen acknowledges that "It's as though I can smell my thoughts" during a seizure and "the world just changes" (170). Jorge finds Allen on the campus ground in a postictal state. He summons an ambulance, and Allen is admitted to the hospital.

When Allen returns to class weeks later, he is no longer the same person. With the use of medication and possibly surgery, doctors have abolished his seizures along with his former personality. Allen receives an "Incomplete" grade for the class. The semester's experience has Jorge lamenting Allen's shocking transformation, attempting to convince Anna of life's worth, and mulling the magnitude of his words.


Doctors don't seem to get it. Allen is convinced that physicians are unable to comprehend the truth about seizures. For him, seizures provide a glimpse of eternity and rare moments where space, time, and body temporarily vanish. He wonders why anyone would strive to control, let alone eradicate, such spiritual experiences. Science and spirituality do appear to be at odds in a story where illness and religion are equally life-changing forces. Jorge and Allen are intriguing characters. Jorge fears displaying his malady (Tourette's), but Allen extols the rapture of submitting to his disease (epilepsy).

Illness certainly impacts identity and personality. Disease is capable of transfiguring individuals and at times even elevating them. Allen's description of the ecstasy and supernormal state of mind associated with seizures has been echoed by other characters in literature (for example, Prince Myshkin in Dostoevsky's The Idiot-see this database).

Religion, faith, sickness, and science are essential to this story but so too are the danger and importance of our choices, perceptions, and deceits. What if there are no "right" answers? Are there problems associated with thinking all the time and analyzing every situation? What possible hazards come with control--of disease, life, and other people? At the conclusion of the story, Jorge has come much closer to comprehending the true nature of life and language. He perceives how words are unpredictable, reverberating, transforming, and possess a history of their own.

Primary Source

Brain Work


Mariner Books

Place Published

Boston & New York



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