SIGHTS UNSEEN by Kaye Gibbons
Kirkus Star


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Gibbons's fifth (Charms for the Easy Life, 1993, etc.), set in her native North Carolina during the early '60s, is a daughter's memoir of her manic-depressive mother--written without rancor or bitterness, but with much painful honesty and affection. For the first 13 years of Hattie Barnes's life, her mother Maggie inhabits a world all her own. Considered ""flighty,"" ""not right,"" and ""given to spells,"" she is--in retrospect--simply manic. Amazingly, her family responds to her wild mood swings with relative good sense and forgiveness. Not long after their marriage, Maggie's husband hires the black maid Pearl Wiggins, a tough disciplinarian who manages both the children and their mother. Though Maggie's madness cuts the family off from neighbors--hence the title--she enjoys the indulgence of her father-in-law, a post-plantation-era patriarch, who finances her shopping sprees and encourages her chatty vivaciousness. During her low moods, Maggie threatens suicide, berates her husband, and ignores the kids. Her highs lead to religious delusions, sexual insatiability (with her husband), and more indifference to the children. All comes to a head in 1967: After a particularly difficult period during which Maggie fears others are trying to steal her soul, she purposely drives her car into a woman on the sidewalk. Grandfather Barnes cleans up her legal mess, but the decision is made to institutionalize her at Duke, where electroshock therapy and the right medications eventually turn off the ""music in her soul."" Thanks largely to lithium, Maggie never decides to revisit insanity, disappointing only the gruff old grandfather. A tale of exasperation and juvenile confusion mixed with unquestioning love--and Gibbons finds the perfect voice: manic behavior captured in beautifully modulated, tranquil prose.

Pub Date: Aug. 30th, 1995
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Putnam