VIVIENNE: The Life and Suicide of an Adolescent Girl by John E. & Holly Hickler Mack

VIVIENNE: The Life and Suicide of an Adolescent Girl

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Vivienne Loomis, 14, hanged herself in 1973, leaving behind an unusually extensive collection of vivid, painful diaries, poems, and letters. From these, and from interviews with family and friends, Harvard Med School psychiatrist Mack has (with Hickler, a teacher at Vivienne's Cambridge, Mass. school) reconstructed Vivienne's life and death, with a detailed clinical interpretation. As the authors acknowledge, Vivienne wasn't a typical teenage suicide: hers was a stable home, with caring parents. But both minister-father David and artisan-mother Paulette had troubles of their own (and two older, more obviously troubled children); plump Vivienne grew up with early feelings of loss, alienation, and low self-esteem; she became severely depressive; and her compensating fixation--on one of her teachers--likewise ended in devastation when he left for California. Also seen as contributing factors: the problems of a sexually permissive teenage climate and confused parental signals; and (least forcefully) the anomie effect of Watergate-like disillusionments--""the failure to protect the young from bombardment with the shattering failures of our generation."" Dr. Mack obviously works hard to be as gentle as possible with the survivors here, sometimes to the point of blurring the facts. (In a Final section, Hickler is much tougher than Mack on Vivienne's teacher--who responded inadequately to secretive Vivienne's confidences, including her confessions of attempts at self-strangulation.) And general readers will fred the clear but often jargon-thick interpretive section (""ego-ideal formation,"" etc.) heavy going--especially since the conclusions drawn are so tentative: one ends up still not really understanding why Vivienne chose suicide. But the authors are scrupulous in acknowledging the limitations of their study, in citing previous work in the field. And though the recommendations here are certainly unsurprising--a larger role for schools in identifying suicidal teenagers; educational programs for parents, teachers, and peers; psychotherapy for depressed teenagers (the absence of which in Vivienne's case remains shocking)--this eclectic treatment, with a twelve-point ""architectural model"" of adolescent suicide, will interest all those involved in counseling deeply troubled teenagers and their parents.

Pub Date: Oct. 20th, 1981
Publisher: Little, Brown