Poet, novelist, jazz promoter and psychotherapist Pines (Redemption, 1997, etc.) harrowingly depicts the incremental psychological breakdown of his younger brother.
Born two years apart, the boys were viewed very differently by their mother, a lawyer who preferred to concentrate on her career. “One child was workable,” their father Ben explained. “Claude was a surprise. I slipped that one in.” The author remembers looking into his baby brother’s crib and thinking, “I will never be lonely again.” Neither boy complained about tagging along while Ben performed his rounds as chief surgeon at the Brooklyn Jewish Hospital. After their parents’ discord escalated into a nasty divorce and Ben married a much younger woman, the brothers cowered together in solidarity and disillusionment. Though circumstances often separated them—Paul went to boarding school and following a short stint in college hit the West Coast; Claude studied abroad and briefly attended medical school in the Bronx—the brothers’ bond remained strong. But as the years progressed, they found themselves apart without communication for long periods of time. The memoir frenetically flashes between the brothers’ early days and the mid-1980s, when middle-aged Paul became reluctant to leave the increasingly agitated Claude alone while he traveled to supervise a European film adaptation of his novel. After witnessing his brother’s anxious, disheveled condition at his wedding in 1985, the author insisted that Claude be evaluated. He was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, and the brothers’ sad, deep, codependent relationship suffered even more in the heartbreaking years to come as Claude’s psychosis was eventually accompanied by heart disease, depression and other ills. The author’s deep love for his sibling is evident on every page of this intense, painstaking chronicle.
Frantic and meandering in its delivery, but nonetheless a searing portrait of a family hobbled by chronic mental illness.