This impactful memoir recounts the events of the summer of 1996 when Greenberg's fifteen-year old daughter Sally "was struck mad," as he puts it (3).   Greenberg's portrayal of Sally's behavior as her illness erupts -seemingly from nowhere-- is staggeringly vivid and trustworthy, as is his description of the series of reactions that belong to him, the father who cannot protect, cannot even reach his daughter, although she sits beside him.   

A then-struggling writer, Greenberg unfolds the story, set in a ramshackle, five-story walk-up apartment in the Greenwich Village where he and his second wife (Sally's step-mother) reside.  Among the many rewards of this story is a colorful slice of a New York city life, around the block and in the locked ward.

Greenberg takes us through Sally's initial onset, her sleeplessness, grandiosity, delusions, and frantic drive to communicate, "a pile-up of words without sequence" (17).  The portrayal of his and his wife's initial shock; the diagnosis, "fulminating mania" with indicators for bipolar disorder; Sally's eventful hospitalization, and her return home in a medicated state that Greenberg finds almost as unsettling a transformation as the onset of the mania.  He details building a rapport with Sally's intriguing psychiatrist, as he observes Sally's efforts to do the same. Greenberg tells us about the day he decided to take Sally's medication -for a variety of understandable and also desperate reasons.  This sequence is brilliantly funny and poignant. And he gives us glimpses of the cost to his marriage of these events, bringing the stresses to light with astounding compassion for all concerned.

This memoir moves with exceptional grace between unfolding events and Greenberg's beautifully informed reflections on them.  Observations about the mental illness of James Joyce's daughter, Lucia, are woven through the text, as are insights and characterizations from other writers and doctors, like that of Eugen Bleuler who, Greenberg informs us, coined the word schizophrenia in 1911, when he observed that "in the end his patients were stranger to him than the birds in his garden.  But if they're strangers to us," Greenberg adds, "what are we to them? (24)" Perhaps the most gorgeous and unforgettable feature of the book is Greenberg's way with words, and his attentiveness to Sally's altered relation to words: "Afraid.  Frayed.  Why are you so a-frayed? She keeps asking" (25).

The story of this hard summer draws in a cast of compelling characters, including Michael's mother who arrives, it seems, from another world -of material comfort and propriety-bringing surprising sources of comfort to her adult son and to her granddaughter.  We also get to know Steve, Greenberg's older brother who, also suffering from mental illness, lives the life of a shut-in only blocks away from Michael, who brings him groceries and looks after him, at times a challenging job.


This parent memoir has distinguished itself among so many superb ones in part because of Greenberg's beautiful style, his ear for the linguistic features of Sally's illness, his flawless sense of timing, his deft presentation of a scene, swiftly positioning us in it, with all the currents of feeling blowing.  With all that in place, he backs away and considers it all.  What's more, Greenberg's self-awareness is unsparing.  He addresses many of the ethical quandaries he faced in taking this subject on; those not tackled in the book can be found in the countless interviews he has given since its publication.

There is comfort to be found in the humane voice of this writer, and also in the honesty of his unsparing account of what this illness looks like, of the devastating effects of such an event.  

This is a book with great reach and resonance to a range of readers: those with children, family members or friends similarly afflicted.  Medical professionals will find a useful depiction of a family's experience of their child's psychiatric hospitalization, and an account of the complex feelings of an insightful and compliant parent to his child's psychiatrist.


This book won the NAMI Ken Book Award and was the 2009 Indies Choice Honor Book Recipient for "Best Conversation Starter."


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New York



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