A beautifully written memoir of a woman coming to terms with her father’s illness.
When McAuliffe (Theater Studies, Slavic and Eurasian Studies/Duke Univ.; My Lovely Suicides, 2007) was 20, her father died alone in a psychiatric ward, having suffered from dementia, hallucinations and a variety of presumed neurological diseases. How he reached this point, and why, as well as how the McAuliffe family coped, is the author’s subject. While serving in World War II, Bill McAuliffe was diagnosed with torticollis, an involuntary contraction of the neck muscles causing his head to twist toward his ear. After an ill-fated surgery to correct it, he began to experience signs of mental illness, which grew into long, hallucinatory and even violent weekends that overshadowed the author’s childhood. McAuliffe pulls from her father’s diary entries, letters, interviews and extensive research to bring order to her memories and to decipher what actually happened to her father. While it seems there were many culprits for her father’s lingering illness and early death—the VA hospitals, the Navy, misinformed doctors, even other family members—McAuliffe does not lapse into accusatory language; she is more interested in exploring the limitations each faced. Told in a circuitous and, at times, almost dreamlike style, her goal is to investigate her father’s past and to understand her own relationship with him and how it has shaped her life. This is not a memoir written with an audience in mind, filled with lurid details of a family in crisis; rather, it’s a thoughtful meditation that reads as though it were written for the author herself. Readers will feel privileged to share in her journey.
A loving, lyrical, complicated portrait of a mentally ill father and the family he left behind.