In this powerfully affecting memoir, ex–Christian Scientist Greenhouse tells the story of how her parents’ fervent adherence to their religion tore the family irrevocably apart.
From the outside, the author’s comfortable Minnesota childhood seemed perfect. She and her two siblings grew up going to the best schools surrounded by a host of loving relatives. Unlike the other members of their extended family, however, the Ewing clan was different. They were Christian Scientists who did not believe in taking medicines of any kind, including aspirin. From an early age, the author was all too aware “of the difference between the way my family does things and the way other people do [them],” and of the irony that her mother was a doctor’s daughter. Over time, her parents’ beliefs deepened. Soon after the author’s 13th birthday, the family moved to London so her father could become a Christian Science practitioner (or faith healer) and her mother a Christian Science nurse. Four years later, they returned to New Jersey where they found a home near a Christian Science care facility. Greenhouse became more openly rebellious, expressing her defiance by buying a pair of much-needed eyeglasses. When her mother became sick with a mysterious illness—a “little problem” later identified as cancer—underlying family tensions came to an explosive head. Both parents vehemently denied her mother’s rapidly deteriorating condition. For nine horrific months, the author stood helplessly by as her mother fought her disease armed only with the belief that all illness was error. With its meditations on the many whys of this event, the narrative reads like a personal exorcism, but Greenhouse’s skill in rendering family relationships under the intersecting stresses of illness and conflicting beliefs make the book worthwhile—but difficult—reading.