IN HER WAKE by Nancy Rappaport


A Child Psychiatrist Explores the Mystery of Her Mother’s Suicide
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A heartfelt but disorganized attempt to understand the untimely death of a parent.

Rappaport (Psychiatry/Harvard Medical School) was just four years old when her mother—caught in a protracted child-custody battle—committed suicide. As a psychiatry professor, the author has spent her career piecing together other people’s stories. But it was not until her father’s new wife revealed a previously hidden trunk full of her mother’s papers that Rappaport finally began to make sense of her own. At the time of her death, her mother was the daughter of a prominent Massachusetts family, newly in love, wealthy and politically ascendant. It therefore remained largely a mystery why the 34-year-old deliberately overdosed on sleeping pills. Using her notes, photographs, letters and drawings, as well as the draft of an unfinished novel her mother left behind, Rappaport attempts to not only understand the mother she barely knew, but also bring some peace to her still-grieving family. “I was the youngest in the family,” she writes. “I’m the doctor. I wanted to help make it all better. Here, I would say, tell me where it hurts.” Unfortunately, in her comprehensive approach to reconstructing her mother’s life, the author floods the reader with details which—while likely invaluable to a child who never knew her mother—make for a scattered, tedious book. Rappaport’s preoccupation with wringing a meaningful narrative out of each recorded interaction—including long exchanges with the judge in the custody case—results in a story that is far less interesting than the details would suggest.

A dry, clinical examination of a family’s profound loss.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-465-01450-7
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2009


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