Authors, Mental Illness, and Suicide

September 25, 2008 at 3:42 pm | Posted in Books, LIfe, Reading | 17 Comments
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I just read an article from Globe and Mail revealing for the first time apparently, that L.M. Montgomery, the author of Anne of Green Gables, committed suicide at the age of 67 through a drug overdose.  The author suffered through a great deal of depression during her life.  Reading this made me very sad.  She created a novel that has been an adolescent staple for close to 100 years now, yet she was unable to fully enjoy her life or her success because of the depression from which she suffered. This news also comes close on the heals of the recent suicide of David Foster Wallace, who has now joined the company of Ernest Hemingway, Sylvia Plath, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Hunter S. Thompson, Richard Brautigan, and Virginia Woolf.

I know that authors are not alone in their connection with mental illness and suicide.  Artists and other highly creative people also seem more likely than the general population to suffer from depression or other forms of mental illness and ultimately commit suicide.  It wonder if it is true that creative people are more likely to have these types of issues or if it only seems that way because of their fame and noteriety?  Is what drove these authors and artists to write or create also responsible for their mental anguish?  Could any of those people have been saved while keeping their talent alive and flourishing?

When I started this blog, I was trying to find some way to fight my way out of the depression and anxiety that was strangling me after my beautiful and beloved daughter Allison was born.  She was two at the time, but everywhere I turned I smacked into the same wall.  I was hoping that making a goal for myself that had nothing to do with being a wife (I love you, Danny!) and a mother (you too, Em -n- Em and Ally McBeal!) could help me.  I decided to read 52 books in 2007.  After I got started, I wanted to document what I read in some way.  That was the beginnings of what is now The Literate Housewife Review.  It has been the combination of reading and the creative outlet of writing my blog that has helped me feel more like myself.  I could not imagine what it would be like if this made no difference or if it made me feel worse.

I have had the wonderful opportunity to correspond with and, in some cases, talk with several authors who have written novels and memoirs that I have really enjoyed.  I am also eagerly anticipating my trip to D.C. this weekend to listen to Neil Gaiman, Philippa Gregory, Salmon Rushdie (great way to kick of Banned Books Week!) and James McBride and hopefully get my books signed.  I do not know any of their personal circumstances, but it would be devestating to me if any one of them were to be in such a situation.

While I know that the appreciation of millions can do nothing if someone is so dark inside, I want to express my appreciation for authors and other artists.  As you reflect the human experience, you enhance it and make it beautiful.  You provide a context through which to speak, discuss and think about that which is without words and I will forever be grateful.

#86 ~ The i Tetralogy

July 16, 2008 at 5:00 am | Posted in Books, Culture, LIfe, Reading | 13 Comments
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The i Tetralogy by Mathias B. Freese

I remember very well the first time I learned about Hitler and what happened to the Jewish people under the rule of Nazi Germany. My teacher taught us that Hitler wanted to create a pure race and to me at that time, Aryan meant blond haired and blue eyed. I was very relieved when he said that. I was certain that me and my family would have been safe from the tortuous concentration camps. Reading The i Tetralogy brought those thoughts back to the surface. I had never considered what it might have meant to be one of Hitler’s chosen. As a child I only felt better knowing that we wouldn’t have been tortured. I never gave any thought to what it would have been like to look the other way or, perhaps worse, to become the torturer.

The i Tetralogy is a fictional account of the Holocaust and its impact from four points of view: a nameless Jewish man enslaved in a concentration camp (seems to be Auschwitz), from Gunther, one of the lead “untersturmfuhrer” of the same concentration camp, from Gunther living in the United States at the end of his life, and finally from Conrad, Gunther’s son born after WWII ended. It is a vicious web that allows no one to escape unscathed.

In graduate school I took a Literature of the Holocaust class and it was one of the most profound of my life. The work covered in that class was mainly autobiographical and focused on such works as The Drowned and the Saved by Primo Levi, Night by Elie Wiesel, and This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentleman by Tadeusz Borowski. We also read Maus and Maus II by Art Spiegelman. For me, Primo Levi’s work was the most difficult, emotionally painful, yet precious to read (if this makes sense). The i Tetralogy reminded me of that experience and amplified it. In it Freese said those things that were left unsaid by the survivors.

Freese, as I discovered while reading Down to a Sunless Sea, is a talented writer. The passion he poured into this novel is clear. It was a difficult book for me to finish. Over the week it took me to read this novel, my anxiety level rose steadily. My jaws would be so sore when I woke up in the morning and I found them clenching for no reason throughout the day. My physical reaction is a testament to the power of the experience. The i Tetralogy would not have worked if it were written by a lesser author.


To buy this book, click here.

#77 ~ Down to a Sunless Sea

June 15, 2008 at 8:58 pm | Posted in Books, Reading | 5 Comments
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Cover for Down to a Sunless Sea

Down to a Sunless Sea by Mathias B. Freese

This slim book is a collection of 15 extremely short stories that fall in the category of character sketches. They look, for the most part, inside the psyche of people dealing with disturbing experiences or memories. Each of the vignettes are serious and dark in nature and you just get a little taste for each character before meeting the next. I was almost equally curious to know more about the character I just met or thankful to be moving forward.

Of the 15 stories, three of them have sat with me since I finished the book a week ago:”The Chatham Bear, ” “Alabaster,” and “Little Errands.” “The Chatham Bear” tells the story, through the eyes of a seasonal visitor, of how the residents of Chatham reacted to sightings of a bear in their community. What the narrator ultimately thinks about the bear and the community is thought provoking. Equally interesting is “Alabaster,” the story of a young boy who often sees an elderly woman and her middle aged daughter sitting on a park bench. The story of their single conversation, while dark, reminds me of exactly how it used to feel to find myself in a conversation with an elderly person when I was a child. One never knows the impact that a simple conversation between strangers might have to both parties. My favorite sketch, however, was “Little Errands.” As someone who has experienced deep and lasting anxiety will completely understand this narrator. There wasn’t necessarily any insight provided within “Little Errands,” but anyone reading this should be able to understand the way anxiety feels and prompts those suffering from it to think and act.

It’s hard to say how I would classify Down to a Sunless Sea. As most of the stories were less than 10 pages, this book was good to have in the car to read when 10 to 15 minutes of free time occurred. Still, there wasn’t much to connect to either positively or negatively as a reader. “Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Father Was a Nazi,” a heavy-handed look at Schwarzenegger’s ancestry, was so short that it was over before I realized how much it bothered me. I would recommend this to someone studying abnormal psychology. If for no other reason, this book could provide interesting case studies. Otherwise, I would suggest that a casual reader wait until Freese, a gifted writer, publishes a full length novel. Many of his characters are deserving of more time and attention.

To buy this book, click here.

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