SIGHTS UNSEEN by Kaye Gibbons

SIGHTS UNSEEN

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KIRKUS REVIEW

 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 motherwritten 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 isin retrospectsimply 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 neighborshence the titleshe 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 loveand Gibbons finds the perfect voice: manic behavior captured in beautifully modulated, tranquil prose. (Book- of-the-Month Club/Quality Paperback Book Club featured alternates; author tour)

Pub Date: Aug. 30th, 1995
ISBN: 0-399-13986-9
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Putnam
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 1995




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