Times Literary Supplement columnist Greenberg chronicles his 15-year-old daughter Sally’s manic breakdown in vivid yet surprisingly detached prose.
In July 1996, the author awoke to find a furiously annotated copy of Shakespeare’s Sonnets and loose pages of Sally’s poetry strewn about their Greenwich Village apartment. That night, the police escorted his daughter home for “acting crazy” in the streets. Greenberg and second wife Pat pieced the story together from Sally’s breathless, incoherent account. She had been struck by a vision: We are all born geniuses, but society robs us of the gift. When the police pulled up, she was on a mission to communicate this to anyone who would listen—even people in the speeding cars she was convinced she could thwart with her hand. Michael and Pat took the “feral, glitter-eyed” Sally to the nearest emergency room, where a psychiatrist gave a preliminary diagnosis of bipolar 1 and admitted her to the psych ward. In his text, her father deals with the shock of Sally’s condition by portraying it in the context of literary madness. Greenberg quotes Lowell’s descriptions of his own manic episodes, cites Spinoza and alludes to Plato, Byron, Hemingway and Woolf. This might seem aggrandizing, but the author is trying to demonstrate that Sally’s insights are sometimes justified, while at the same time avoiding James Joyce’s fatal error of enabling his daughter’s madness by participating in her visions. Sally spent 24 days in the ward, flanked by her quirky family and a tableau of other colorful characters, before she returned home, highly medicated and bravely determined to believe her therapist’s assertion that psychosis is not an identity. Greenberg’s talent for description occasionally runs away from him in a narrative that could be slightly tighter, but his erudite portrait of bipolar disease as experienced from both inside and out is dazzling. Sally’s own precocious descriptions of her mania serve as no small aid.
Bears enlightening and articulate witness to the sheer force of an oft-misunderstood disease.