Elegant account of a family’s persistent melancholy and the damage it wrought.
When Lukas (Silent Grief, 1988) was six, his brilliant, mercurial and horribly depressed mother Elizabeth killed herself. When he was 62, his older brother, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Tony, committed suicide on the eve of the publication of his second book (Big Trouble, 1997). The author’s uncle killed himself in his early 70s; Lukas’s grandmother did the same in her 80s. After years of trying to make sense of his mother’s death, which her sons didn’t know was a suicide until years later, the author was faced with another mystery to unravel. In their childhood, he and his brother had never been close, or even similar. Tony took after their mother in temperament and coloring, inheriting the “blue genes”; Christopher (Kit) was known as “Master Sunshine.” After Elizabeth’s death, the boys were raised by their domineering but adoring grandmother and their elegant, but largely absent father Edwin. As they aged, Kit and Tony grew farther apart, until at times the damage to their relationship seemed irreparable. Lukas’s recital of the family’s depressed history includes an account of his mother’s affair with an older, married man, which began when she was 13 and ended just before her marriage to Edwin. It provides a child’s-eye view of Elizabeth’s death and moves into the brothers’ adulthood, when Tony became increasingly successful and unmoored. The more celebrated he was, his brother writes, the greater his need for admiration: “Tony’s prizes and the thousands of plaudits for his work didn’t fill up the hole in his soul.” As Kit achieved his own success, he too realized how ultimately unsatisfying it could be. Lukas movingly chronicles his own struggle to understand the darkness he suspects inside himself as well as the suicides of loved ones unable to cope with that darkness.
Sweet, sad and sobering.