Poet and essayist Robison’s (What Matters, 2001, etc.) autobiography of madness and redemption—completing a trilogy of dysfunction of sorts, joining the memoirs of her sons, Augusten Burroughs (Running with Scissors, 2002) and John Elder Robison (Look Me in the Eye, 2007).
The author was raised in rural Georgia in the 1930s amid a family of secrets—a depressed father and a mother defeated by life, and aunts not spoken of who were spirited away to mental institutions. In her search for her artistic voice and confused sexuality, she bent to the will of family and times. Doing what was expected of her, she married John, a young divinity student and later a philosophy professor. John could be loving and kind, but more often—over decades of married life—drunk, violent and psychotic, with frequent and recurrent stays in psychiatric hospitals. In the process, he left deep wounds on his wife and children. Finally, depression and psychosis overtook Robison herself and she too was committed. Yet, as she writes, “madness broke through the thick walls of repression,” and she began to write. Still, she had to extricate herself from John and from an ersatz and cult-like psychiatrist, under whose spell she had fallen until he tried to rape her. But Robison persevered, continuing to write and teach and finding love and companionship with a woman. Though a stroke rendered her left side paralyzed, she eventually regained the speech she had lost. She also found her voice, and in old age made the story of her life her own. Robison’s story, fairly or not, is really one about women and men—how women can become lost and wounded in the world of men and saved and renewed in the world of women.
A harshly honest memoir that paints a portrait of a woman and a life, both brave and flawed.