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A father learns to adapt, as he has before, to a family member, in this case, his daughter, dealing with a mental illness and it being so close to home.
Review (with Spoilers)
When I first read this book it was sometime when I was in high school. At the time I was trying to figure out if I truly did not like to read, as many make the claim to, or if the so-called classics that every school push on us were just not for me. Well, between this book and the biographies of Maya Angelou (more so Maya Angelou’s book than this one if we are to be completely honest), I discovered that the classics were good solely because it was agreed upon and that I shouldn’t gauge my interest in reading based on that. So, with that said, let’s talk about the book which, let’s say approximately 7-10 years ago got me truly into reading.
Characters & Story
A writer by trade, the youngest of four, and also someone both married to a dancer, Pat, and living in New York. He has two children, Sally and Aaron, with ex-wife Robin, and life was decent until Sally turned 15. For reasons which can’t be explained, she was struck by mania and while Michael has experience dealing with someone with a mental illness, through his brother Mikey, it becomes a whole different thing when that person isn’t your brother who you see every now and then, but the child you are raising.
Her journey with us begins at 15 at the end of a school year. She finds her mind racing, much greater than ever before, and she realizes this is her genius. Genius which we all possess but oppress, and she plans to become a prophet which will assist all in accepting and enhancing it. Problem is, this once quiet and academically challenged girl is speaking in riddles. Riddles no one really understands and her inability to remain calm, to rise to these great heights of intellectualism with clarity and understanding, it is frightening. Not just to her father and step-mother Pat, but to the places she goes to, neighbors who see, and even her friends to a point.
So, her father makes the decision to get her some help and while not a solution the help does become an aide.
A dancer. Someone who only met Michael due to the need of low rent and convenience. She liked to keep her life from becoming messy. Yet, through a relationship and now marriage, she has this young woman in need of not just her immediate family, her biological family, but her too. She is there, she listens and tries to interpret, and with that comes some form of peace. But how can one give themselves to another and not become lost? How can a woman, not this child’s biological mother, feel firm in her place as the biological mom swoops in? Nevermind dealing with a man who is lost, bewildered and going through his own issues. How does a woman who used to keep such a peaceful and quiet life deal with all this?
Michael’s ex-wife was not made for New York nor truly compatible with him. Yes, they fell in love and had children, but the woman he married wasn’t the woman she was. She tried to be that person, perhaps, for a time, but it never really worked. Now though she is happily married and has found herself. Maybe not completely, but she is more whole now in discovering herself than letting others pick and choose who she is the same way you would an outfit for the day.
An Understanding of Madness
Perhaps madness isn’t the right word, but I do feel that if this is something foreign to you, what would be the right word? Through Michael, and Sally to a point, we get to vicariously experience both living with it and it dominating you. The issues which come with it possibly being untreated and the fear which comes from letting someone else take control of your life because you’ve lost it. Then the aftermath. The fear of it coming back like a dedicated stalker. The fear of how others will see you, possibly ostracize you, which in a way makes it worse. We are always told misery loves company, but what about mania which is a selfish friend who grabs hold of you and forces you to listen. A friend who whispers and yells in your ear so much it becomes hard to know what are your thoughts and what is being planted in there.
I won’t claim this book is a guide for those who maybe suspecting someone maybe not themselves and it may be a mental illness, but there is something here of value. Something to relate to and I think even if you think you’re fine you will understand someone’s point of view. As long as you allow yourself to open up to these characters.
Not a Happy Ending, But A Realistic One
Call me a pessimist, but there is nothing worse to me than when a story has a tight little bow for an ending. One in which everything is left on a high note and you are given this false sense that all the bad things that happened were just a prolonged nightmare. Thankfully, with it seeming Sally was open to her story being told in full, as truthful as possible, we are given a real ending. One which still gives hope, but not a false sense of it.
It’s Michael’s Point of View and Interpretation
While it is made known Sally gave her permission for her story to be told, at times you do wish it was her words, her feelings, her thoughts, which were given. For while Michael is the one who perhaps more easily accessible, Sally is the one which keeps you hooked. So with her control being a tug of war you wish Sally, in retrospect, was allowed to elaborate how things felt, how her mind was, and it wasn’t all about Michael. For sometimes, honestly he was the least interesting person and it felt like you only put up with him because there was no other choice but to.
While this was one of the books which helped kindle my love of reading, and there were a lot of quotes extracted from this book, I must admit that any magic it might have had the first time around isn’t there now. In fact, I’m trying to remember what first drew me to this book unless it was just my desire at the time to read books about people with issues. Either way, while the plight of Sally is definitely a highlight, unfortunately, we are seeing her through Michael’s eyes and while his point of view as a father is interesting, sadly he is not. He is but a boring man with interesting people in his life and as the book goes on you come to realize he slowly becomes the liability to his own story. Hence the mixed label.