Saturday, August 02, 2008

Hurry Down Sunshine by Michael Greenberg

Hurry Down Sunshine is Michael Greenberg’s candid, often brutal, account of his daughter’s slipping into psychosis.

The first part of this three part memoir carries the reader through the events that lead up to the hospitalization of his only daughter Sally. The pace is frenetic, and the immediacy of things is exhausting. Details of Greenberg’s life, his first marriage, where he lives, what he and his wife do for a living, even the child custody arrangements, are all woven seamlessly with the sudden necessity of getting Sally the help she needs.

The second part of the memoir slows down as Greenberg delineates the details of the experience and the people encountered, other patients and family, including the more extended family of his own—a brother who has his own form of mental illness, his ex-wife, and his own mother. All dance in and out of the story of Sally’s meltdown and healing while in the hospital

The third part has the daughter coming home and how Greenberg and his wife cope with the demands that are made on them while caring for a still struggling Sally is not always flattering but consistently honest. As Sally strives to return to her life before the summer, one day needing to return to school and another convinced she cannot do so, the reader feels the same ambiguity between hope and despair, trust and doubt.

At a time when published memoirs are a dime a dozen, practically speaking, it is difficult to find ones that offer something new. Greenberg’s willingness to share from his experience, one that most any parent would struggle to survive let alone revisit in writing, is remarkable. While I have faulted other memoirists for avoiding their emotional responses to their circumstances, Greenberg’s sometimes removed account is more emotionally charged than a mere listing of the details. As he describes historical and literary examples of people who struggled with manic depression the reader understands that these intellectual distractions are anchoring this father who is struggling to find answers to questions he is afraid to ask. Is he responsible, somehow? Should he have seen this sooner? What could he have done differently to keep from losing his daughter? Even the most banal or horrifying news reports are not enough to do more than contextualize the details of how this family fights to hold themselves together when one of their own is falling apart.

This is not an easy book to read, although it is easily read. The subject matter is harrowing to anyone with a child. Nevertheless, I would recommend it to anyone interested in knowing more about how mental illness has repercussions that go far deeper than anyone could imagine.

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