A shape-shifting debut memoir about a family’s coming to terms with schizophrenia—or not.
Essayist and critic Sardy delivers an extraordinarily ambitious and accomplished narrative about significant challenges. She chronicles the immense difficulties in trying to maintain a semblance of sanity while both her mother and brother suffer through schizophrenia that they refuse to acknowledge, with the rest of the family in various states of denial as well. The structure keeps readers off balance, as the author refuses to follow conventional notions of chronology or connection, illuminating mental illness from the inside out. “Mental illness is not contagious, but madness often is,” she writes, a crucial distinction in her exploration of how, “in my family, psychotic illness has threaded its way through four generations in a row” and how those not afflicted have suffered through the effects of coming to terms with the delusions of schizophrenia, which seem so real to the one suffering and so outlandish to anyone else. At the outset, the book seems to be a memoir about coming-of-age while the author’s mother was falling apart, refusing to acknowledge her condition, spending all of her sizable inheritance, and telling her daughter that now is a particularly good time to emigrate to Pluto. Meanwhile, her father, whom her mother refused to acknowledge as such, remained in a state of denial while trying to provide a safe harbor when he had the children. Yet much more of the narrative concerns her relationship through her 20s with her brother, who showed similar signs of disintegration from schizophrenia, resisted diagnosis and treatment, and suffered from increasingly harmful delusions, leaving him in jail or homeless—though rarely completely out of touch with his family. The author herself suffers from bouts of depression, which she acknowledges and probes in her unsettling narrative.
Both powerful and disturbing, this impressive debut memoir suggests just how challenging it can be to regain some semblance of balance after that balance is lost.