Margaret decides to go ahead with marriage to her fiancé, John, after he is hospitalized with a severe bout of depression. It stays away for so long after that she imagines it won’t return, but it eventually does, and it shakes the family. And the mental illness crops up in their oldest son, Michael, who ends up dealing with anxiety that’s enough to cripple him and warp his thought patterns, already brilliant and empathetic. He identifies with blacks and dedicates his academic life to studying the history of slavery and hopes to help spread the word about reparations. Michael, a music fanatic, also happens to fall for unavailable black women. He longs for connection but it’s just out of his reach.
Meanwhile, his younger brother, Alec, and his sister, Celia, try to figure out where they belong in their own lives and how they can or should help Michael. Their mother tries to do whatever she can to help her troubled oldest child find some peace, but, as with her other children, there’s no real satisfactory answer.
This novel is a fine examination of a family and the impact of mental illness. We get the points of view of the mother and the children, the son who is dealing with a mind and chemistry that won’t allow for a “normal” life, and the family members who care deeply but simply can’t “make it better.” There are no easy answers for anyone in this situation, no sure way to know if you’ve done enough or done too much; if your love can possibly help someone who may never know “normalcy,” at least for very long. The book is another window into a situation many may be all too familiar with and some may appreciate gaining some understanding of through the power of literature.
The only parts that made the book distasteful for me (and wish I hadn’t read it) were one character’s brief meaningless homosexual encounters. I imagine they did something to indicate that character’s state of mind but I would have been much happier without the details.
Rated: High, for about a dozen uses of strong language and other milder language, a few sex scenes including the aforementioned brief but detailed homosexual encounters, and some other crudeness.
I received an e-copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.