SEA RUN: Surviving My Mother My Madness by Mary Leu Shields

SEA RUN: Surviving My Mother My Madness

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Accounts of mother-daughter destinies hopelessly bound together have been grist for more than one feminist mill of late; but this is so quietly done and intricately detailed that it rises above the clichÉ. Mary Leu Shields began psychoanalysis as a wife and mother of two in the late Sixties; partly she wanted to know what had happened to her lifelong writing ambition, partly she wanted to escape the fear that she would wind up in a mental institution as her mother had when Shields was twelve. What her psychoanalyst recognized from the outset, we find out, is quickly apparent to the reader as well: Shields is a woman steadfastly in control, able to articulate her positions and influence almost everyone she comes in contact with; she is not likely to plunge into madness. Despite a divorce from her beloved husband (who turns to another) and some self-destructive forays into alcohol, casual sex, and dependent relationships, Shields seems to be merely playing at instability, going through the motions as if trying on the role. She is successful at keeping her alcoholic/jailbird father at bay--even snubbing his funeral--and in keeping her mother's behavior within the bounds of reason. Finally the decade turns, and feminism provides the key to her mother's descent: an artist and free-love advocate in the Twenties, she was institutionalized for a ""mismanaged sex life"" and systematically belittled for a less-than-spotless house by her immigrant mother and sister; her ""artistic concentration"" was often mistaken for acute withdrawal. After 14 years in a state hospital, she was released to a nursing home--as a kitchen worker. Finally at peace with the limits of woman's role, she burned all her illustrations and advised Shields to aspire to nothing more than caring for a husband and children. A waste, certainly, and one we are made to feel; but there is hope in a mental-health worker's assurance to Shields that ""what happened to your mother couldn't happen today."" A complex study, engrossing and rewarding.

Pub Date: March 23rd, 1981
Publisher: Seaview--dist. by Harper & Row