A deft account of mental illness and motherhood.


A writer recounts the story of her mother’s schizophrenia diagnosis and subsequent lobotomy in this debut memoir.

After the death of her husband; a prolonged, difficult battle with depression and irritable bowel syndrome; and suicidal thoughts during a solitary Christmas on a remote farm, Allen checked herself into a mental health facility to get her life in order. She decided that, as part of her investigation into herself, she would go through the papers of her dead parents: her mother’s diaries and scrapbooks, her father’s unpublished poetry and novels, and, most significantly, “what remained of my mother’s patient records in Walter Freeman’s files and at the Independence Mental Health Institute to which she was committed.” It was while under the care of Freeman—a physician whose methods would later become the stuff of horror stories—that Allen’s mother, Gretchen Richard, was declared a schizophrenic and forced within days to undergo a lobotomy that completely changed her personality. In this memoir, Allen reconstructs Gretchen’s life as a young, single Roman Catholic woman in Depression-era Chicago, where she met and married Everett Reb, an aspiring writer. The strained marriage and her erratic behavior eventually led her to Freeman, whose swift and drastic treatment changed the lives of Gretchen and her family forever. Allen’s skill as a storyteller is apparent right from the start of the book, which begins, “My life has been messy. At times, it has been almost unbearably messy, and that has had a far-reaching impact on my life. I did not suffer unrelenting misery.” Her parents are perfect subjects: Gretchen, a tragic yet magnetic figure; Everett, an observant and thorough diarist. While there are a few sections where the narrative gets bogged down in the minutiae of biography (moves, relatives), the story is as compelling as it is upsetting. The author not only sheds light on the disturbing mid-20th-century practice of lobotomy (which was mostly performed on female patients), but also thoughtfully examines the ramifications of such practices—and mental illness generally—on subsequent generations. Allen stares boldly into the darkness but manages to find in her own life a glimmering alternative.

A deft account of mental illness and motherhood.

Pub Date: July 23, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4808-6319-4

Page Count: 308

Publisher: Archway Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 21, 2018

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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