As Hall himself says, “an eye-opening and sobering experience.”




In the authors’ first nonfiction title, the particulars of Munchausen Syndrome—those diagnosed perpetually feign or provoke symptoms of illness for attention—appear not in the jargon of medical textbooks but in the fraught life of one woman.

Through alternating recollections from Avigal, the patient, and Hall, the therapist, the specifics of Avigal’s episodes are brought into disturbing focus. Abused by her father and unprotected by her mother, Avigal suffered repeated traumatic events. Lacking familial refuge, she continued to harm herself until she was eventually placed in a residential school for children dealing with emotional abuse. Even there, though, she couldn’t escape, falling prey to her caregivers. Avigal didn’t meet Hall until well after she had already married, bore children and lost a son to cancer—a loss which prompted her to attempt suicide again and then reevaluate her well-being. Under Hall’s guidance, Avigal underwent a therapeutic regimen that caused both her and Hall to question many aspects of their own lives. The book’s approach is somewhat unseen in the genre of psychological memoirs: Instead of opting for a singular perspective, the combined frankness of Avigal about her tribulations and Hall about his hurdles in combating them offers enlightening changes of perspective and pace. Despite the book’s often stomach-turning content, it ends on a note of well-earned hope, with Avigal working to address the afflictions of her past. Avigal’s honesty is riveting and bracing, as is Hall’s when he candidly writes of the difficulties of treating Avigal. The book carries a dual meaning in its title: firstly, the secrets of the illness itself and, secondly, the mystery of treating an ailment from which many have not recovered. Avigal and Hall’s collaboration offers readers a coherent timeline while still managing to put forth an arrestingly personal account of redemption. Sensitive, nuanced, ethical and creatively wrought—including reproduced emails between patient and therapist about the treatment process—the book is a major step forward in overcoming the formal restraints of psychiatry to secure dignity, optimism and peace for the mentally ill.

As Hall himself says, “an eye-opening and sobering experience.”

Pub Date: May 23, 2012

ISBN: 978-1468094800

Page Count: 176

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 10, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

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A vivid sequel that strains credulity.


Fremont (After Long Silence, 1999) continues—and alters—her story of how memories of the Holocaust affected her family.

At the age of 44, the author learned that her father had disowned her, declaring her “predeceased”—or dead in his eyes—in his will. It was his final insult: Her parents had stopped speaking to her after she’d published After Long Silence, which exposed them as Jewish Holocaust survivors who had posed as Catholics in Europe and America in order to hide multilayered secrets. Here, Fremont delves further into her tortured family dynamics and shows how the rift developed. One thread centers on her life after her harrowing childhood: her education at Wellesley and Boston University, the loss of her virginity to a college boyfriend before accepting her lesbianism, her stint with the Peace Corps in Lesotho, and her decades of work as a lawyer in Boston. Another strand involves her fraught relationship with her sister, Lara, and how their difficulties relate to their father, a doctor embittered after years in the Siberian gulag; and their mother, deeply enmeshed with her own sister, Zosia, who had married an Italian count and stayed in Rome to raise a child. Fremont tells these stories with novelistic flair, ending with a surprising theory about why her parents hid their Judaism. Yet she often appears insensitive to the serious problems she says Lara once faced, including suicidal depression. “The whole point of suicide, I thought, was to succeed at it,” she writes. “My sister’s completion rate was pathetic.” Key facts also differ from those in her earlier work. After Long Silence says, for example, that the author grew up “in a small city in the Midwest” while she writes here that she grew up in “upstate New York,” changes Fremont says she made for “consistency” in the new book but that muddy its narrative waters. The discrepancies may not bother readers seeking psychological insights rather than factual accuracy, but others will wonder if this book should have been labeled a fictionalized autobiography rather than a memoir.

A vivid sequel that strains credulity.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982113-60-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A miscellany of paternal pride (and frustration) darkened by the author’s increasing realizations of his mortality.


Ruminations and reminiscences of an author—now in his 70s—about fatherhood, writing, and death.

O’Brien (July, July, 2002, etc.), who achieved considerable literary fame with both Going After Cacciato (1978) and The Things They Carried (1990), returns with an eclectic assembly of pieces that grow increasingly valedictory as the idea of mortality creeps in. (The title comes from the author’s uncertainty about his ability to assemble these pieces in a single volume.) He begins and ends with a letter: The initial one is to his first son (from 2003); the terminal one, to his two sons, both of whom are now teens (the present). Throughout the book, there are a number of recurring sections: “Home School” (lessons for his sons to accomplish), “The Magic Show” (about his long interest in magic), and “Pride” (about his feelings for his sons’ accomplishments). O’Brien also writes often about his own father. One literary figure emerges as almost a member of the family: Ernest Hemingway. The author loves Hemingway’s work (except when he doesn’t) and often gives his sons some of Papa’s most celebrated stories to read and think and write about. Near the end is a kind of stand-alone essay about Hemingway’s writings about war and death, which O’Brien realizes is Hemingway’s real subject. Other celebrated literary figures pop up in the text, including Elizabeth Bishop, Andrew Marvell, George Orwell, and Flannery O’Connor. Although O’Brien’s strong anti-war feelings are prominent throughout, his principal interest is fatherhood—specifically, at becoming a father later in his life and realizing that he will miss so much of his sons’ lives. He includes touching and amusing stories about his toddler sons, about the sadness he felt when his older son became a teen and began to distance himself, and about his anguish when his sons failed at something.

A miscellany of paternal pride (and frustration) darkened by the author’s increasing realizations of his mortality.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-618-03970-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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