Debut memoir chronicles three girls’ escape into a fantasy world as their mother’s schizophrenia grows worse.
In 1970s San Francisco, life for the author and sisters Sara and Amy became as tumultuous as the cultural firestorm engulfing the nation. With the Vietnam War raging on television, their left-leaning parents struggled to fit into a new, upper-class lifestyle in their apartment overlooking the bay. Reconstructing the familial tensions she witnessed as a child, Flynn shows her beautiful, intelligent mother slowly succumbing to a mental illness that led her to believe she played a pivotal role in the battle between good and evil. Flynn’s father, the frequent target of these paranoid delusions, moved out and sued for custody of his daughters. Judicial prejudice kept the girls with their mother. The author’s dramatic memories of her mother’s fits of violent rage and prolonged periods of neglect are vivid and artful. Depictions of neighborhood bullies, a filthy home with broken windows, confrontations with civil servants and random acts of child abuse propel the reader through the narrative. As the sisters seek sanctuary in a world of intensified play, the pace accelerates toward a shocking, sad climax. Flynn can be forgiven the abundance of metaphors linking water and emotion—two elements, we are heavy-handedly reminded, that share the properties of enormity, violence and mystery—as the tragedy’s raison d’être comes into view. Readers will be less forgiving with a historical background evoked largely in stilted, tedious clichés.
An imperfectly told but galvanizing portrait of the devastating impact of mental illness on those it afflicts and those around them.