The Galvins of Hidden Valley Road, just outside Colorado Springs, appear to be the kind of wholesome, all-American family that others might envy.  The tragic fact is that six of the twelve children go on to develop schizophrenia, a situation that is practically unprecedented.  In Hidden Valley Road, journalist Robert Kolker gives us the tale of the deterioration of six afflicted children and the traumatization of six healthy ones in an improbable, bucolic setting.  As one after the other reaches young adulthood in this “funhouse-mirror reflection of the American dream” (p. xxi) and inexorably succumbs to madness, the family struggles to cope.   

In their search for answers, the Galvins’s extraordinary circumstances come to the attention of researchers.  Ultimately, although there is no cure, the family makes a contribution through their genes to our understanding of schizophrenia, as a mutation is discovered that is shared by the afflicted children.   

Hidden Valley Road follows the travails of this “multiplex schizophrenia” family over so many years that there is a sea change in our understanding of the disease’s origins.  At first, it is taken for granted to be the result of a faulty upbringing at the hands of “schizophrenogenic” parents.  Later, biological explanations prevail.  Finally, a more balanced view is attained, with nature and nurture each thought to play a role.  


This is an engrossing, readable and non-technical book whose author was previously known for the best-selling Lost Girls, another exploration of traumatized families.  

The greatest strength of Hidden Valley Road lies in its detailed and perceptive portrayals of individual family members and of family dynamics. The author tells us that “even if just one child has schizophrenia, everything about the internal logic of that family changes” (p.xviii), and we see that borne out, twelve times over.  By now, several of the afflicted siblings have already died, in one case quite violently.  Several of the healthy siblings were sufficiently traumatized that they moved away, have not taken part in genetic profiling, and would not agree to be interviewed for this book.  On the other hand, the youngest child has found it healing to assume the care for her remaining sick brothers.    

But it is the complex and multidimensional depiction of Mimi, the Galvin matriarch, that lingers in the mind long after one has finished Hidden Valley Road.  At times we can see why she might have been labelled schizophrenogenic.  At other times she is a tower of strength who somehow, astonishingly, manages to keep the household together. Anyone who has been a caretaker for a person with mental illness will identify with how, towards the end of her life, she reflects on the cards she was dealt: “The blaming part really traumatized me to the point where I felt I couldn’t tell a friend or anything.  It was all just inside…And so I was crushed, …because I thought I was such a good mother. I baked a cake and a pie every night. Or at least had Jell-O with whipped cream” (p.284).     



Place Published

New York



Page Count