IMAGINING ROBERT by Jay Neugeboren


My Brother, Madness, and Survival
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 An uncommon tale of brotherly love, and a passionate defense of the notion that dignity belongs as much to the mad as to the rest of us. Like Susan Sheehan's Is There No Place on Earth for Me?, this volume enters profoundly into the life and suffering of a man with a severe mental illness. In this case, however, novelist Neugeboren (Before My Life Began, 1985, etc.) is writing about his younger brother, Robert, who was first hospitalized at the age of 19, after trying to kill his father. Robert's life acutely poses the question of when, and how, originality and eccentricity prefigure and finally cross the border into madness. Robert was a charming and gifted child during the Neugeboren brothers' boyhood in Brooklyn in the 1940s and '50s. (Robert's wit and gentle spirit are everywhere manifest in the letters, quoted here at length, that he wrote from various institutions.) But finally eccentricity became disorderliness and confusion, and Robert began a lifetime's journey in and out of institutions where he was treated by an ever-changing but consistently incompetent cast of therapists, on and off of a pharmacy-full of medications, in and out of the latest ``miracle'' treatments. How did the promising boy who beguiled everyone with his song-and-dance routines become the man whose narrow life centers on halfway houses, menial work, and occasional visits to Atlantic City? Neugeboren, who rejects the reduction of mental illness to biochemical imbalances, explores their family's troubled past (a father who was a failure as a breadwinner, a domineering mother who scorned her husband, doted on Robert, and denigrated Jay), and his own adult life as the brother of a mentally ill man, single father of three children, and son of a mother with Alzheimer's. A rich, textured, and deeply sad tale emerges, enlarged by Neugeboren's persistent belief that in telling Robert's story, he can ``be a witness to his life, in all its complexity, uniqueness, hope, and despair'' and make it ``fully human.'' (Author tour)

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-688-14968-5
Page count: 305pp
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1996


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