IN THE BEST OF FAMILIES: The Anatomy of a True Tragedy by Dennis McDougal

IN THE BEST OF FAMILIES: The Anatomy of a True Tragedy

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An unsatisfying examination of the internal destruction of the family of Roy Miller, personal counsel to Ronald and Nancy Reagan. McDougal (Angel of Darkness, 1991) describes the mounting mental illnesses of Miller's two sons, culminating in Jeffrey's suicide and Michael's rape and murder of their mother, Marguerite. Roy Miller was a senior partner at the prestigious law firm of Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher, where he prepared the taxes of Governor, and later President, Reagan. An energetic homemaker, Marguerite was known for the strict healthfood diet she maintained for her family. They were a successful couple who had high hopes for their sons. But after graduating from Dartmouth Jeffrey became fanatically involved in Christian fundamentalism, leading to intensive hypnotic deprogramming therapy with an organization whose owners were later arrested for fraud. Jeffrey was then committed to a mental institution, where he swallowed an entire bottle of aspirin and died in his sleep. Michael lived in his brother's shadow, was never accepted among his peers, and developed a strong attachment to his overbearing mother. He adopted her obsession with nutrition and pursued various food cures for his physical and mental problems, as well as hypnosis and biofeedback. His eccentricity gave way to madness by 1983 when, at 20, he clubbed his mother into unconsciousness, raped her, and left her to die. His confession led to his institutionalization at a California psychiatric hospital, where he remains. McDougal suggests that the odd mix of '70s California pop cures vigorously practiced by Marguerite and her sons at the very least intensified the boys' psychological problems. But otherwise, he concentrates on how, rather than why, the Millers became unhinged. We are also left wondering how someone presumably crafty enough to be chosen as the Reagans' tax lawyer could allow his sons to be shepherded from one quack to another. Often awkwardly written and frustratingly incomplete.

Pub Date: June 14th, 1994
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Warner