MADNESS by Marya Hornbacher


A Bipolar Life
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Photoshop of horrors from a writer who has suffered countless maladies during her long battle with mental illness.

Hornbacher begins when she is 20 and in one of her self-mutilation phases. Then she looks back, using relentlessly present-tense verbs to provide snapshots of prior disturbing moments, beginning with her frenzies and terrors at age four, advancing through elementary school (“I am shitfaced and hyper and ten years old”), then on to cocaine and eating disorders. Psychiatrists and hospitals don’t help much; mental-health professionals are always far less clever than the author. In 1996, while working on her first book (Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia, 1998), she’s told that she has severe bipolar disorder. Disdaining the meds, mistaking her highs for cures, she ignores the diagnosis. Hornbacher’s prose accelerates when she’s writing about her manic periods, then slows for the depressive lulls. Later, she organizes the text in short sections labeled by year, or season, or month, or sometimes even by hour. They chronicle drinking, random sex, cutting, vomiting, anonymous boyfriends, good and bad husbands, multiple hospitalizations, alternating periods of zany mania and I’m-not-leaving-my-bed depression, multiple meds, clueless shrinks, shock therapy, cocktails of drugs. Somehow Hornbacher goes on a book tour, writes a novel (The Center of Winter, 2005), remembers pages of detailed conversations. People are always telling her that she’s hot and talented. A couple of times she says that madness and electroshock have wiped clean her memory, then she launches into more pages of verbatim witty dialogue and detailed description from days or decades ago. She ends with an epilogue chockablock with clichés like “but there is hope too” and “I am who I am.”

Blurs the line between imagination and memory so thoroughly that truth struggles for visibility.

Pub Date: April 9th, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-618-75445-8
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 2008


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