Having affectingly grappled with the demons that led to her mother’s suicide in Searching for Mercy Street (1994), Sexton takes on her own in this stinging chronicle of a road to three attempted suicides.
The author begins the story, and punctuates it throughout, by revisiting her mother’s mental illness. Anne Sexton, the celebrated confessional poet, came from a long line of depressives. Though she may have passed a suicide gene along to her daughter, she also did much to nurture the urge, speaking to her of the voices in her head, accusing her daughter of being the one who made her sick and being altogether too confessional when it came to lovers and sex. So Sexton fille had plenty of fuel for her own depression, which was voracious and amplified by motherhood, a grim cocktail of loneliness, grief, despair, migraines, a bipolarism that swung between gloom and agitation (no euphoric highs here) and a terrible descent from mind pain to physical pain. Sexton is a dark wizard at describing her misery, which effectively turned her into a zombie, and the impulses that drove her to start cutting herself: “It’s a way of letting the poison out. Taking control again…It makes the voice in my head shut up. To bleed is a way of knowing you’re alive.” The author provokes both scorn and sympathy, and she ably captures both the corrosive emotional storm in her head and the exhausted wariness she produces in others. Only occasionally does she overwrite—“I was ready to make music with the keyboard of my wrist”—and lose the scouring immediacy of her condition, when “[s]uicide simply came up from behind and took me in a bear hug” and she became “a mother who, as her own mother before her, had lost her grip on love.”
An elucidating, caustic engagement with the author’s depression.