Gorilla and the Bird

A Memoir of Madness and a Mother's Love


By Zack McDermott

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“Glorious…one of the best memoirs I’ve read in years…a tragicomic gem about family, class, race, justice, and the spectacular weirdness of Wichita. [McDermott] can move from barely controlled hilarity to the brink of rage to aching tenderness in a single breath.” — Marya Hornbacher, New York Times Book Review

Zack McDermott, a 26-year-old Brooklyn public defender, woke up one morning convinced he was being filmed, Truman Show-style, as part of an audition for a TV pilot. Every passerby was an actor; every car would magically stop for him; everything he saw was a cue from “The Producer” to help inspire the performance of a lifetime. After a manic spree around Manhattan, Zack, who is bipolar, was arrested on a subway platform and admitted to Bellevue Hospital.

So begins the story of Zack’s freefall into psychosis and his desperate, poignant, often hilarious struggle to claw his way back to sanity. It’s a journey that will take him from New York City back to his Kansas roots and to the one person who might be able to save him, his tough, big-hearted Midwestern mother, nicknamed the Bird, whose fierce and steadfast love is the light in Zack’s dark world.

Before his odyssey is over, Zack will be tackled by guards in mental wards, run naked through cornfields, receive secret messages from the TV, befriend a former Navy Seal and his talking stuffed monkey, and see the Virgin Mary in the whorls of his own back hair. But with the Bird’s help, he just might have a shot at pulling through, starting over, and maybe even meeting a partner who can love him back, bipolar and all.

Introducing an electrifying new voice, Gorilla and the Bird is a raw and unforgettable account of a young man’s unraveling and the relationship that saves him.


Author’s Note

This is a true story, and I have done my best to ensure accuracy in its telling. As my memory is sometimes fallible, dialogue is approximate. In cases where the events described took place when I was too young to understand what was happening around me, I have relied on my mother, the Bird, to fill in the gaps. The names and identifying details of some individuals have been changed.


Granny hates the pigs to this day. If she’s in a friendly mood, she’ll call them “the fuzz,” but never just “the police” or even “cops.” Most often, it’s “the pigs.” “Zachariah, look out the window. Is that the pigs?” She’ll say that in the same voice she uses when she says “Look, there’s a cardinal in my bird feeder”—nonchalant, lacking any malice. It’s purely observational: There’s a bird. There’s the pigs. One night in 1978 the pigs beat her son Edward senseless on her front lawn while she watched.

My uncle was sitting in the cab of Pa’s truck, stoned out of his mind on PCP, when the cops showed up. First two cars, then three, then six. When they started pounding on the driver’s side window, Pa told them they didn’t need to do that. “Let me talk to my son and I’ll get him out of the truck.” He was told to “stay on the porch, sir.” Then to “stay on the fucking porch, sir.” Soon he realized he should not have told the cops that Edward was strong, that he didn’t know for sure what he’d taken, and that his son wasn’t in his right mind. They interpreted that as Please beat my son’s ass because he is definitely going to try to beat yours.

Edward came out swinging once they got the door open, so high on dust that he didn’t know he didn’t have a chance. They beat him and kept beating him with their billy clubs while he flailed and resisted. Then they beat him after he quit flailing. Then they beat him after they cuffed him. Then they maced him. Then they kept beating him.

My mother, the Bird, knew why her parents’ house was lit up in blue and red before she got close enough to see the cop cars covering the front lawn. Edward. It couldn’t be anything but Edward. Pa was on the porch, three cops forming a moat around him. He was howling, crying so loud she heard him before she got out of the car. Edward was in the backseat of one of the cruisers. The blood matted his hair down and caked his cheeks. His face was starting to swell, but he’d look much worse in the morning. He was smiling.

Granny couldn’t talk for several hours, and what she saw that day would haunt her forever. Edward, shackled and maced and bathed in police lights, getting bludgeoned by six men with wooden batons. Her husband screaming and cussing and crying and begging. Sirens ringing in her ears. Black baton hitting skull with the same pop as bat hitting baseball. The beating was brutal enough to have killed him, for sure. At what point could she be certain that it hadn’t? Never. And if the beating hadn’t finished him off, the PCP might still have had something to say.

The Sunday after Thanksgiving 1982, a few months before I was born, my schizophrenic uncle Eddie suffered his last overdose on angel dust. He was airlifted to Kansas City with a heart aneurysm. The procedure they used on him was new enough that his case was later chronicled in medical textbooks. The doctors gave him less than a 30 percent chance of making it through the surgery.

His body survived, but in many ways, that was the end of his life. After the airlift, Granny and Pa stayed with Edward in the Kansas City ICU until just before Christmas. Granny prayed the rosary; Pa drank whiskey.

This last overdose, combined with his already severe and untreated mental illness, erased any lingering hope that he might someday be able to live anything approximating a “normal” life. The schiz and the addiction—proverbial chicken and egg—had swallowed the man. He was twenty-six years old.

Granny and Pa didn’t want him institutionalized, but he couldn’t live on his own either. He could barely control his own body. Given his age, Granny and Pa couldn’t just tell him he had to live at home. In an attempt to regain guardianship, they went to court. Things didn’t go according to plan. The judge lifted their burden of care entirely—they were denied guardianship. Edward was ordered to enter a state mental institution in Topeka.

On the day the men from the mental hospital came to pick up Edward, my mom went into labor with me. His last day on the outside was my first.

Chapter 1

I walked out of my apartment on the corner of St. Marks and Avenue A that afternoon and I knew we were rolling. I knew the people on the sidewalk were actors. They resembled the normal East Village lot, but they were archetypes: the skaters were all wearing DC Shoes and expensive skinny Levi’s; the construction workers’ boots were too worn, their accents too Brooklyn thick; and what kind of girl wears Louboutins in this neighborhood? Even the homeless people were a little too attractive, and when I looked closely, I could tell their face tattoos were actually professional makeup jobs.

It made sense. I’d spent the whole summer doing stand-up and writing a TV pilot with The Producer, a new friend with major connections whom I’d met at an open mic. He’d assured me that he had access to anyone we wanted to work with in Hollywood, and earlier in the week we’d met with an MTV producer who’d expressed interest. Now, a few days later, I found myself in a real-life audition. The Producer’s approach was genius: just let me do what I do, interact with the common folk, and get it all on film. It was up to me to make the show work. All the production assistants were doubling as extras, their foot traffic directing me from one scene to the next.

The herd steered me toward Tompkins Square Park at the end of my block. I couldn’t believe how well they’d cast Generic Old Man on Park Bench. In comedy, it’s the little details and cameos that separate good from great, after all. I knew the old man should be my first mark, so I approached him immediately. I said hello. He looked nervous but returned the greeting. I grabbed his bike with the intention of taking it for a few laps. “No!” he shouted as he yanked it away. The old man had some chops. Figuring our scene was up, I sprinted east toward the dog park and hurdled the fence. Before popping back out at the end of the dog run, I dropped down on all fours to gallop with the pack.

Any minor doubts that we were shooting were eliminated when Daniel Day-Lewis power-walked across the basketball court. He was dressed in full Gangs of New York regalia: top hat, coat, and long waxed moustache. The Producer knew he was my favorite actor and must have convinced him to make a cameo just for the hell of it. Day-Lewis, a legendary practical joker, must have done it for free because we certainly couldn’t afford him. This little inside joke was The Producer’s way of telling me “Yes, this is happening. Trust your instincts. Make comedy gold.”

On the corner of Houston and First Avenue, knowing the streets had been closed for me and the cars were piloted by professional drivers, I sprinted across the intersection, narrowly avoiding several taxis as they braked and swerved. The ratio of yellow cabs to regular commuters was about 70/30, closely approximating the real split in New York but slightly inflated on the taxi end since it made for a good visual.

I trespassed into one of the Lower East Side’s public housing buildings. Like many of the places I’d been that day, the inside of the projects looked so authentic that it had to be artificial, a caricature of itself. Do people really leave the doors to their apartments open while their shitty televisions blare into the hall? Is Mami really cooking up some Puerto Rican food on that two-burner hot plate? What’s next, a guy in a dirty wifebeater drinking malt liquor and screaming on the fire escape? These must be establishing shots, designed to show the audience that, yes, we were actually shooting in New York, the non-Friends version. I walked out an emergency exit and set off the alarm.

Down the block from the projects was a park with a mini AstroTurf soccer field. Rec league players passed the ball around; their game was about to kick off. Perfect! I had played soccer in college. I sprinted onto the field, ushered the keeper aside, and started yelling at the players.

“Have one, ya wee pisser!” I shouted in a Scottish accent.

The forwards obliged and started shooting. No one could beat me. My movements were effortless. I could read the trajectory of the ball and anticipate its dips and arcs as soon as it left the shooter’s foot—like a Major League Baseball hitter who can spot a curveball as it leaves the pitcher’s hand. I batted eight or nine shots away before relinquishing the goal back to the team’s keeper. He looked too impressed to be pissed.

“That’s how it’s done, son.” I sauntered out of the box.

“Get the fuck off the field!”

I looked around, trying to figure out who they were yelling at.

“Get the fuck off the field!”


“Yes, you!”

Jealous. With your goddamn shin guards on like you’re playing in the World Cup. I pulled my shorts down past my butt and started jogging laps around the field, bare-assed. Occasionally I’d turn at midfield and sprint across the centerline. I could run for days.

“Get the fuck off the field!”

I continued to run, both on and around the soccer field, throughout the entire first half before noticing that many of the players were facsimiles of guys I’d played with in high school and college. Not only that but the girls on the sidelines looked like Bailey, Quinn, and Molly—my first middle school crushes. The assistant producers must have talked to my mom. She must have sent them pictures, and we must have one hell of a casting agency.

A helicopter hovered over the field, and I waited to see if it was going to land on the center circle. It didn’t touch down straightaway, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t coming for me. Maybe they needed to take some aerial shots first, or maybe they were waiting for me to signal when I was done, or maybe it was just a preview of what was to come later. I was giddy thinking about who was in the helicopter with The Producer—Jay Z? Jermaine Dupri? Missy Elliott? Dave Chappelle? Jimmy Fallon? He knew all of them, and he’d promised to introduce me when the time was right.

I figured I’d better keep moving—we didn’t need three hours of footage at the soccer field. I quickly spotted my next mark: a group of black guys standing in a circle on the corner and shooting the shit. A rap battle felt appropriate, so I came in and started spitting. My words spilled out of me as if I was reciting memorized verses, as familiar as the Pledge of Allegiance but faster and fiercer than Eminem. “Hot like the kettle when the pedal hit the metal, Pinocchio you know son of Geppetto, hello!”

It was straight out of a nineties music video, the whole squad dressed in Timberlands, baggy hoodies, and puffy coats; one of them even sucked on a dry blunt stick à la Method Man. “Yo, man. You gotta chill. You’re gonna get squashed.” I wasn’t sure if he meant by him or the traffic.

“Nothing can touch me. This is my day,” I said and threw my fitted Yankees cap on the ground—a demonstration of victory and a generous offering, since it would soon be a valuable souvenir. Everyone has a Bill Murray story. If that guy was smart and kept my hat, he’d have proof that he’d once battled Myles McDermott (my stage name).

“You’re crazy, dude. You should roll. Be careful.”

I sprinted back across Houston, to show the hip-hop crew that the city really was shut down for me. The drivers once again swerved to avoid me and each other while honking and yelling a realistic variety of obscenities. I considered popping into Katz’s, the iconic deli where Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal shot their famous scene in When Harry Met Sally, but it seemed too obvious.

I ran through the city for the next ten hours, following my marks. At some point it occurred to me that eight million people lived in New York; even if we had Scorsese’s budget, we couldn’t afford to shut down the entire city. There had to be some real people mingling in and out of our production. But how was I supposed to keep the thread if no one told me what to do or gave me any direction?

I didn’t have much time to think on it because the late, great “Macho Man” Randy Savage was leading a gang of bikers north on First Avenue. It’s a straight shot to Yankee Stadium, that’s why. And where was I three nights ago? Yankee Stadium. What happened when I walked in in the middle of the second inning? Jay Z, The Producer’s crown jewel connection, was on the jumbotron. And what was the song they played when he popped up on-screen? “Brooklyn We Go Hard.” So where to go? Brooklyn. And go hard.

But hold up. What if I was supposed to follow the bikers to Yankee Stadium? They didn’t really expect me to walk to the Bronx, did they? I sat on the sidewalk and paused to think it over. I saw an upscale salon—that’d be the perfect way to touch up hair and makeup without halting the shooting. The motherfucking Producer thought of everything.

I walked into the salon and asked, “How much for a touch-up?”

“What’s a touch-up?”

“You know…” I winked at her and made exaggerated air quotes. “Just the ‘usual,’ whatever that is.”

She looked confused and said, “Well, trims start at two hundred.”

Fuck that. Or maybe not—maybe The Producer was telling me that I would soon be able to afford $200 touch-ups. Or maybe he was giving a cost-prohibitive number. The character Myles McDermott couldn’t afford a $200 touch-up; he’s a public defender and a struggling comic, after all. I figured it meant I should get the fuck out of there and back on the streets—we don’t need no damn haircut. Then the phone rang. She stayed on for way too long—Time is money, woman—and then told me, “I’m sorry, sir, but we just booked our final slot for tonight. Would you like me to make an appointment for you tomorrow?” Genius. Genius. Genius.

“Yes, indeed. Tomorrow it is, madam.”

I walked out of the salon and made an important realization: The Bowery Hotel was two blocks away. I’d been in there a few weeks prior and seen either Mary-Kate or Ashley Olsen—don’t know which one, doesn’t matter. The Producer had built in a break for me because of course I’d be tired by hour nine. I could go take a load off, get a drink, even. Plus, that’s where deals get made, and maybe I was there to make a deal.

I walked through the lobby—the only guy in soccer shorts, swag on another level. I didn’t wait to be seated; I just walked past all the suits and socialites to the back patio. A waitress came over and asked me if I needed anything. “I was thinking about having a little champagne,” I said, assuming she’d probably bring me a bottle of their finest. The execs around me spoke into their BlackBerrys in hushed tones. He’s here, what do you want me to do? Maybe they were just checking out the goods today—the endorsement negotiations would happen on a future date. I didn’t feel like talking business anyway, so I just started barking toward the microphones in the trees. “Just my mom. My mom and The Producer, if you want to come out. Those are the only people I want to see—no business right now. Art before money.” The waitress was taking too long and I was losing steam, so I bailed.

I resumed following the flow of foot traffic through the East Village, still certain that the producers watching on monitors were using the pedestrians to guide me, still trying to solve the enigma of where the producers had set up their remote control room. Where is the camera? iPhones can’t be capturing all of this. I ended up on a Brooklyn-bound L train headed to Williamsburg. I peeled off my shirt, grabbed the overhead bar, and started doing pull-ups on the train. We could use that for promos or B roll.

When the train stopped, everyone spilled out in their own directions. Half went left, half went right, and I didn’t know who to follow. How do I know where to go? How do I know when this is over? I couldn’t spot the eye in the sky. This was starting to feel less like a TV show and more like surveillance—a sick social experiment to see how far I’d go for the cameras. Alone and without guidance, I panicked. My eyes filled with tears. “What do you want from me?!” I screamed, crying so hard my contacts flushed out of my eyes. I’d lost the game.

Two NYPD officers approached. Their uniforms looked real. My hands were folded behind my head like a captured soldier. I was barefoot and shirtless, wearing only soccer shorts in late October.

“What’s the matter, buddy?” the first cop asked.

“I don’t know. I’m trying to figure it out.”

“You’re standing on a subway platform with no shoes on, no shirt, and you’re crying. That don’t seem like a problem to you?” The second cop seemed to be playing the role of Bad Cop.

“I think the problem is I’m cold.”

“You don’t seem violent.”

“I’m completely nonviolent.”

“So you don’t mind if we just cuff you for safety purposes, then?”

“But you’re not real cops?” I asked as they detained me.

“No, there’s a costume party later.”

Like the construction workers, their accents were just a little too authentic, and their radios were a bit overactive. They weren’t real; I didn’t need to invoke my Sixth Amendment right to counsel.

They led me to a tiny satellite office inside the subway station. “I don’t suppose you have ID?” Good Cop asked.

“Not in my pocketless shorts, no.”


I found myself in the back of an ambulance instead of a squad car. The paramedics told me we had to wait but otherwise seemed entirely uninterested in anything I had to say. They listened on the radio to the Yankees playing the Angels for the American League Championship, but it sounded prerecorded. And who under the age of seventy actually listened to baseball games? We were in a holding pattern, but for what I didn’t know.

After three or so innings, another radio cracked on: “Intake available at Bellevue.”

Chapter 2

Normally I wasn’t the guy riding in the ambulance to Bellevue. I was the guy who represented you after the police declared you an EDP—emotionally disturbed person—and decided that you need a visit to the psych ward before you’re stable enough to go in front of a judge. Maybe you took a shit on the subway. Maybe it’s the crack and the bugs are back. Maybe you were so high on meth you convinced yourself you were the devil and put two steak knives in your skull where your horns should be.

I was in my first year as a public defender in Brooklyn, and I’d already seen more than a hundred of these EDP cases. Earl Miller Jr. was the most memorable, and he wasn’t just screaming at the wind when the police found him; Earl had a “landlord–tenant issue” on his hands.

Like all my clients, I first met Earl in “the pen”—one huge jail cell in the bowels of Brooklyn Criminal Court, reeking of homelessness, halitosis, piss, and moldy cheese sandwiches that no one eats. Night arraignments run until 1 a.m., and many in the pen—all black or brown, save an occasional drunk Russian—have been through the system enough times to know that if they don’t get called before 1 a.m. they won’t see a judge until the next morning. There’s no rhyme or reason to the order in which they will see an attorney, and some have been sitting in the cage for twenty-four hours. Unsurprisingly, the possibility of a night upright on a cement bench doesn’t result in a calm atmosphere: restlessness, desperation, and anger are as thick as the smell. Every name called pisses off the other twenty-nine men packed in like cattle.

“Earl Miller Jr.”

An enormous man, probably thirty-six inches from shoulder to shoulder, squeezed into the interview booth. Before I could hand over my business card and say “Hi, I’m Zack McDermott. I’m going to be your lawyer,” Earl was already shouting everyone’s first question: “Am I going home?”

Earl Jr.’s head was shaved bald, shiny, and—like his shoulders—cartoonishly huge. His eyes were moist, large, and vacant; his cheeks so puffy it looked like he was holding his breath. But most people’s attention would probably be drawn first to the scar that ran from his left eyebrow to just below his bottom lip. I couldn’t imagine this man smiling. “Dis ain’t nuttin but a landlord–tenant issue.” His voice was deep and sluggish, like a bear that’s been shot with a tranquilizer dart. I still hadn’t given him my card; he was worked up enough that I decided to just skip it for the moment. “Landlord–tenant issue. That’s all this is.” The criminal complaint I was holding suggested otherwise.

“Earl, did you have a problem with your landlord?”

“That’s all it fucking is.”

“Okay. I understand you think this is a landlord–tenant issue, but you are in jail. Can I tell you what they are accusing you of?”

“You can’t tell me shit because dis a landlord–tenant issue! You ain’t my fucking landlord!”

“No, I’m your lawyer. And they—the cops and the DA—think it’s more serious than that. The police are saying you threatened to burn down your apartment and that you had a bat or a club and you were threatening this guy, Daniel, saying you were going to fuck him up. Is any of that true? Did he threaten you?”

“I ain’t talking to you.”

“I think you should, because if you don’t, I can’t really help you, and no one else is trying to.”

It was late in the night and if I was going to get Earl in front of the judge and possibly save him a night on Rikers, we were going to have to move.

“Five minutes, Counsel, the judge wants your notice!” a court officer hollered at me.

People who have been in and out of the system can usually detect bullshit pretty quickly, and normally I can get my clients, however belligerent they are at our introduction, to trust me. But I could tell Earl’s distrust was different from the standard convict’s contempt for every member of the system. He simply didn’t know what the fuck was going on. I followed the script the PD’s office taught us for cases like this.

“Earl, can you tell me if any of this stuff they are saying about you is true? I’m not saying it’s true. It’s the police’s story. But can you tell me your story? We gotta move here. I have to ask you some questions, fast, if we’re going to get you out of here tonight.”

“Fuck you mean if?! Dis ain’t nuttin but a landlord–tenant issue! I’m getting the fuck outta here! Just let me talk to the judge! Fuck outta here, man!”

He got up and slammed his meaty palm against the glass.

“Real quick, Earl: Have you ever taken any medication?”


“Do you know what you take, Earl?”


“Anything else? Risperdal maybe? Depakote?” Knowing the names of the popular antipsychotic meds was part of the job—it came up a lot.


“You ever been to the hospital for anything?”

“Yeah. I been to the hospital.”

“Did they give you drugs there? Is that where you started the Depakote?”


“Did they say maybe you were bipolar? Or schizophrenic?”

“Yeah. I been that.”

“All right, thank you.”

I scribbled “730?” on the top left corner of my file—shorthand for New York Criminal Procedure Law § 730.10, the statute that says any defendant who, as a result of mental disease or defect, lacks the capacity to understand the proceedings against him or assist in his own defense must have his case dismissed. That doesn’t mean he gets to go home, though; best-case scenario, he’d end up at Bellevue psych ward instead of Rikers. Downside is, at Bellevue he’d still be among “criminals,” and they’d all be mentally ill.


  • "A funny, finely observed and surprisingly touching depiction of what it feels like to lose your mind. By allowing us to witness his lowest and most delusional moments, and the slow and tentative process of returning to the world, Zack McDermott provides a gripping portrait of a very real human battle too often ignored and misunderstood. I am better for reading this book."—Sarah Hepola, NewYork Times bestselling author of Blackout
  • "Zack McDermott's portrait of a mind under assault from bi-polar illness is both fascinating and heart-breaking to observe, and he takes us into his experience with riveting intensity. But McDermott's real achievement is capturing the moving determination and steadfast love of the mother who saves him, the remarkable Bird who breaks the loneliness, quiets the fear and gives him a home worth returning to. I was so moved by this book and these people."—George Hodgman, New York Times bestselling author of Bettyville
  • "A poignant memoir...[McDermott's] book asks us to destigmatize mental illness by familiarizing us intimately with the issue."—Los Angeles Review of Books
  • "McDermott brings a vivid and unsettling degree of intimacy to his descriptions of mania's onset. . . His work as a public defender grows out of a deep sense of empathy for the stigmatized and marginalized that's evident on every page. He uses that empathy to construct a deeply compassionate portrait of his mother - a resilient woman whose love helps ground him in the real, even in moments when his reality is at its most friable."—NPR.org
  • "A startlingly moving memoir of mother and son, structural injustice and inflammable mental illness. Gorilla and the Bird is as piss-cuttin' a pieta as anyone has any right to hope for. And Zack McDermott -- guy's a fleet, funny, unsentimental storyteller who manages that rare thing: He allows a damaged soul be found."—Kent Russell, author of I Am Sorry to Think I Have Raised a TimidSon
  • "A captivating and witty memoir about a young lawyer's gut-wrenching struggle with mental illness and the fierce, protective love of his remarkable mother and dedicated friends, Zack McDermott's Gorilla and the Bird is not only a deeply powerful reminder of our own vulnerability, but a truly inspirational testament to the strength of the human spirit. This book makes accessible experiences that some may wish to ignore but that urgently require our attention, acceptance and empathy."—ElizabethFord, M.D., author of Sometimes Amazing Things Happen
  • "Gorilla and the Bird will make you laugh, cry, and wonder what would happen if we were all brave enough to tell the stories of our relationships with love and madness. I needed this book."— KieseLaymon, author of How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others inAmerica
  • "A tale of madness, self-destruction, and the stalwart presence of a family...McDermott's memoir is decidedly offbeat, unfolding like a country song. There's the law, some good jokes, substance abuse, and love lost and found, but there's also a keenly felt sense of justice for the people who can't catch a break in this world, 'the dregs, the castoffs, the addicts'...If the Joads were tanked up on Bud Light and Haldol and Steinbeck were under Hunter S. Thompson's influence, this might be the result-rueful, funny, and utterly authentic."—Kirkus Reviews
  • "A remarkably written (and lived) memoir about hard beginnings, bad genes, delusions of grandeur, and epic mother love...holds us rapt."—Huffington Post
  • "[A] poignant and powerful debut...an important resource for anyone impacted by the scope of bipolar disorder, as well as those who want to learn more about it."—The Rumpus
  • "Glorious...one of the best memoirs I've read in years. The sheer, sharp pleasure of McDermott's prose is reason enough to pick it up...Gorilla and the Bird, though sure to be marketed as a mental health memoir, is equally a tragicomic gem about family, class, race, justice, and the spectacular weirdness of Wichita, Kan.... McDermott gives us a flawed, funny, self-aware narrator with a powerful command of his own voice; he can move from barely controlled hilarity to the brink of rage to aching tenderness in a single breath. While he sustains his pell-mell pace from the first page to the last, he also covers an enormous amount of territory, carrying the reader from a brutally funny description of childhood in the heart of the Midwest to an unflinching exploration of the racism embedded in the American justice system. At the center of Gorilla and the Bird is a beautiful and profoundly affecting portrait of the Bird, McDermott's mother - a woman as real, raw, and obstinate in her love for the Gorilla [McDermott] as he is in his love for her...With deceptive effortlessness, this book carries the reader through both the peculiar twists and turns of the bipolar mind, and over some complex, shifting terrain in ethics and American life."—Marya Hornbacher, New York Times Book Review

On Sale
Sep 26, 2017
Page Count
288 pages

Zack McDermott

About the Author

Zack McDermott has worked as a public defender for The Legal Aid Society of New York. His work has appeared in the New York TimesThis American LifeMorning Edition, and Gawker, among other places. He lives in New York and LA. 

Learn more about this author