Weeks after the birth of her child, the writer receives a phone call informing her that her mother, who has gone missing, has hanged herself.  This memoir, like others written in the aftermath of similar trauma, is an effort to make some sense of the mother’s mental illness and horrifying death. Unlike many others, though, it is the story of a family system—and to some extent a medical system—bewildered by an illness that, even if it carried known diagnostic labels, was hard to treat effectively and meaningfully.  The short chapters alternate three kinds of narrative:  in some the writer addresses her mother; in some she recalls scenes from her own childhood, plagued by a range of symptoms and illness, and her gradual awareness of her gifted mother’s pathological imagination; in some she reproduces the transcript of a video production her mother narrated entitled “The Art of Misdiagnosis” about her own and her daughters’ medical histories. Threaded among memories of her early life are those of her very present life with a husband, older children, a new baby, a beloved sister and a father who has also suffered the effects of the mother’s psychosis at close range.  


Inventive, compelling, compassionate, and honest, this book offers a thoughtful exploration of how mental illness involves the whole family, and how an artful, creative and intelligent person who is also delusional can baffle her caregivers. The discontinuous narrative contributes interestingly to the sense of dislocation the writer seeks to convey as she patches together scenes from a life lived in a chronic state of precariousness, ambivalence and uncertainty with a mother she loved but could neither fathom nor, ultimately, help.


Beacon Press

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