MAD HOUSE by Clea Simon


Growing Up in the Shadow of Mentally Ill Siblings
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 The outgrowth of an article by Simon in the Boston Globe, where she works, an evocative, sensitive, and beautifully crafted memoir by a journalist whose older sister and brother each suffered from schizophrenia; the brother ultimately committed suicide. Having grown up in an upper-middle-class Jewish family on Long Island, Simon recalls the pall cast over her youth and adolescence by her brother's withdrawn and sometimes sexually inappropriate behavior, as well as her sister's violent outbursts. She profiles her parents' and her own denial of their illness: When Clea applied for college, for example, her mother claimed that she was an only child. She writes of her own confused feelings of guilt, fearfulness, anger, and grief at having ``lost'' her siblings to the radical personality distortion of mental illness and to separation. She also portrays the compensatory or escapist roles she played: good girl, overinvolved caretaker, rebel. Simon captures how her family's lives, haunted by tormented and unpredictable behavior, sometimes fossilized: ``Our fear made us rigid; our family's trauma has cramped our ability to grow and change.'' She supplements her observations with those of other siblings of the mentally ill whom she has interviewed. Simon does so many things well. She clearly explains the two major psychoses (schizophrenia and bipolar, or manic-depressive, disorder), as well as related psychological concepts. She also provides a short, useful reading list and succinctly explores some important economic factors influencing the care of the mentally ill. Now in her 30s, she writes of her own and others' struggles with intimacy, their anxiety about having children, and about her prospects of caretaking her emotionally distant and sometimes hostile sister after their parents die. Absorbing and moving--must reading for siblings of the mentally ill, members of their immediate and extended families, their friends, and all who work with them. (Author tour)

Pub Date: March 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-385-47852-6
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1996


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