Debut memoir incisively etches the daily dread of living with a schizophrenic parent.
In 1975, when Holman was eight years old, her mother took her and a younger sister to live in the family cabin in Kechotan, Virginia, where Mom planned to set up a field hospital. She had been inducted into a secret army, and wounded children would be coming. The author’s mother was experiencing her first, full-blown psychotic episode; it lasted more than three years. She wouldn’t see a psychiatrist until 1981, when her disease had progressed too far for effective treatment, and she is now permanently institutionalized. How could this happen? “Here’s how,” declares Holman. “It could happen to you.” The delineation between madness and sanity, she recalls, was not so clear. There was no context with which to square her mother’s unnerving behavior: the black paint on the windows, the British accent, the rages and mumblings and uncleanliness. Holman’s father had stayed back at the family home, earning a living, hoping that the cabin would do his wife good. Later, he came to live with them when he realized what was happening. The well-intentioned laws protecting patients’ rights kept her mother from being required to accept psychiatric help for many years. “Gingie,” as Holman was nicknamed, learned how to walk softly around her mother, to guard herself; it took a terrible toll and came to haunt her later. Not all is sadness and confusion in this account, but her mother is incomprehensible, the years reflected upon are very, very dark. Holman flips back and forth between those years and the present, as though diving in and then surfacing for air. Readers, too, will find themselves releasing their breath only at the end of the short, remarkably taut chapters. No wonder the portion published last year as “Homesickness” in DoubleTake won a Pushcart Prize.
Holman takes you into life with madness, and the extrication feels only partial. In a word, intense.