An uneven collection of 22 essays and excerpts on the subject of depression by a wide assortment of writers.
Mental-health journalist Casey has assembled quite an array of luminaries—from the quasars (William Styron, Larry McMurtry, Ann Beattie) to the lesser-known, and (in some sad cases) feebler lights. Among them they manage to cast considerable light on this dark disease, revealing vast dimensions that far surpass the ability of a single word to encompass it. Many confess they have no real idea of the source of their disease. (David Karp concludes that it “arises out of an enormously complicated, constantly shifting, elusive concatenation of circumstance, temperament, and biochemistry.”) Some are grateful for anti-depressant drugs; others rail against them. Some rage against psychiatric hospitals and grave treatments (like electroconvulsive therapy, or ECT), but Martha Manning calls ECT “the tractor that pulled me out of the mud.” Not unexpectedly, the principal adornments are those supplied by Russell Banks (who writes with compassion and eloquence about his wife’s depression), Larry McMurtry (whose personal experiences chronicled here appeared in fictional form in his Duane Is Depressed), William Styron (who observes that the illness’ only virtue—if such a sanguine word be apt—is that it can be conquered), and Donald Hall (whose loving words for his late wife, the poet Jane Kenyon, are almost unbearably poignant). Casey has employed an interesting device of juxtaposition: Chase Twichell (wife of Russell Banks) writes about her lifelong loneliness; Styron’s wife writes about her coping with his illness; editor Casey herself writes about her sister’s depression—and then novelist Maud Casey ends her sister’s collection with the observation that, finally, it is practicality that holds her to the earth. There is at times a redundancy to the volume (more than one writer teaches us about serotonin), but there are quiet surprises, too—like Meri Nana-Ama Danquah’s luminous essay about being black, and being depressed.
Administer in small doses at sensible intervals—or expect a serious side-effect: depression.