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Hurry Down Sunshineby Michael Greenberg
Synopses & Reviews
Hurry Down Sunshine tells the story of the extraordinary summer when, at the age of fifteen, Michael Greenberg's daughter was struck mad. It begins with Sally's visionary crack-up on the streets of Greenwich Village, and continues, among other places, in the out-of-time world of a Manhattan psychiatric ward during the city's most sweltering months. "I feel like I'm traveling and traveling with nowhere to go back to," Sally says in a burst of lucidity while hurtling away toward some place her father could not dream of or imagine.
Hurry Down Sunshine is the chronicle of that journey, and its effect on Sally and those closest to her — her brother and grandmother, her mother and stepmother, and, not least of all, the author himself. Among Greenberg's unforgettable gallery of characters are an unconventional psychiatrist, an Orthodox Jewish patient, a manic Classics professor, a movie producer, and a landlord with literary dreams. Unsentimental, nuanced, and deeply humane, Hurry Down Sunshine holds the reader in a mesmerizing state of suspension between the mundane and the transcendent.
"Greenberg, a columnist for London's Times Literary Supplement, was living in Greenwich Village in 1996 when his 15-year-old daughter, Sally, suddenly became manic, importuning strangers and ranting in the streets about her newfound cosmic wisdom. She was a danger to herself and others, so her father and stepmother had her committed to a psychiatric facility. Greenberg was no stranger to mental illness; he'd been caring for his dysfunctional brother most of their adult lives. Still, Sally was so brilliant, so caring, he couldn't bear the thought of her ending up like his brother. During the 24 long days Sally spent in the hospital, Greenberg learned to cope. He watched a Hasidic family visiting with their mentally ill young man. He pondered his ex-wife going to cuddle with Sally, as if she were still a little girl. He listened to his mother explain her troubled marriage and the subsequent mental illness of his brother. He wondered at his present wife's resilience. After Sally's discharge, questions of how they would adjust to their new lives were complicated in very different ways. In this well-written and sincere memoir, Greenberg proves to be a caring man trying to find his way through the minefield of a loved one's madness. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
There is a moment in "Stalking Irish Madness" when the author, Patrick Tracey, looks at an old photo of two of his sisters, Chelle and Austine, and remarks, "There they are — a memory." Their schizophrenia is diagnosed later, at different times: Chelle catapults into a kind of psychotic exuberance — describing her breakup with Warren Beatty and her dates with Jesus — while Austine becomes nearly... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) catatonic, "pleading silently to some predatory personage for mercy." Both women are cruelly robbed of the people they once were, or once promised to be, in that photo. After watching a loved one's identity vanish, those left in the wake of severe mental illness must struggle with disturbing questions: Where has she gone? Why has she gone? Will she come back? "I can accept my mother's death," writes Tracey, "but the gone-and-not-dead are not so easily forgotten." This haunting notion inspires him to undertake investigations into both his family's long history of schizophrenia and the origins of the illness in Ireland. The first part of the book chronicles Tracey's lineage, and here the author offers astute descriptions of schizophrenia and the various ways it has taken hold of family members. But soon — sooner than the reader may like — he is journeying to Ireland to broaden his story, specifically to County Roscommon, where his ancestors are from and where, coincidentally, researchers discovered a gene linked to schizophrenia in 2002. But Tracey never pins down his ancestry or the answers he is seeking. Upon his return, he admits to being no closer to understanding the illness, but the journey has brought him closer to his sisters, both now spending their days at centers for the mentally ill. This anticlimax is the most moving testimony of the book: It makes painfully clear that both sorrow and surrender, crucially intertwined, attend efforts to bring meaning to the puzzle of mental illness. In his memoir, "Hurry Down Sunshine," Michael Greenberg also stands witness to family madness. He recalls, with extraordinary insight, the mania and later the depression that took hold of his 15-year-old daughter, Sally. Greenberg wonders how he will simultaneously grieve for — and learn to live with — his missing daughter. After being brought home by the police for "acting crazy" in the streets, she becomes suddenly violent, wrestling her father to the ground and scratching his face when he tries to keep her from leaving their New York City apartment. She is buzzing with a revelation she wants to share with the world: that we are all born geniuses but our intelligence is suppressed as we grow up. "In the most profound sense Sally and I are strangers: we have no common language," Greenberg writes. "She's gone away like the dead, leaving this false shell of herself to talk at me in an invented dialect only it can understand." A columnist for the Times Literary Supplement, Greenberg renders the details of his daughter's breakdown with lyrical precision. He ably describes the heightened sense of being that is often a component of madness — and the way it beckons to outsiders. "Sally's need to feel understood is like one's need for air," he confides and then adds: "Isn't this everyone's struggle? To recruit others to our version of reality? To persuade? To be seen for what we think we are?" Greenberg's writing is so effective that it somehow removes the sense of shock one might have about a father taking a dose of his daughter's mood stabilizers, as Greenberg does in an effort to get closer to what Sally is feeling. "I feel dizzy and far away," he writes of his reaction, "as if I am about to fall from a great height, but my feet are nailed to the edge of the precipice, so that the rush of the fall itself is indefinitely deferred." His intelligence and compassion help give a sense that his daughter is recovering even as he himself goes too far. And Sally does return. Without fanfare, she becomes herself again. "It's as if a miracle has occurred," Greenberg writes. "The miracle of normalcy, of ordinary existence." Alas, the miracle does not last, a difficult reminder, at the end of an otherwise triumphant story, of the enduring mystery of mental illness and the wretched way it can wind itself round a family. Reviewed by Nell Casey, editor of 'Unholy Ghost: Writers on Depression' and 'An Uncertain Inheritance: Writers on Caring for Family', Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"Greenberg...writes with unflinching honesty and heart....[A] startling piece of writing, by turns sobering and surreal." Booklist (Starred Review)
"[V]ivid yet surprisingly detached prose....Bears enlightening and articulate witness to the sheer force of an oft-misunderstood disease." Kirkus Reviews
"[E]legiac, beautifully crafted....Sure to become a new classic in the literature of mental illness; highly recommended." Library Journal (Starred Review)
Book News Annotation:
In this extraordinary account of a loved one's madness and the effects it has on family, friends, caregivers and even fellow sufferers, Greenberg records his daughter Sally's journey as only a father can while still remaining completely honest with her and himself. Even random comments by near-strangers become significant here, and as Sally struggles in an institution and again under outpatient care Greenberg makes it clear that as a family, community and society we share more madness than we dare to admit. His description of Sally's progress toward coherence through work in theater is especially moving. Annotation ©2009 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
HURRY DOWN SUNSHINE TELLS THE STORY OF THE extraordinary summer when, at the age of fifteen, Michael Greenbergs daughter was struck mad. It begins with Sallys visionary crack-up on the streets of Greenwich Village, and continues, among other places, in the out-of-time world of a Manhattan psychiatric ward during the citys most sweltering months. “I feel like Im traveling and traveling with nowhere to go back to,” Sally says in a burst of lucidity while hurtling away toward some place her father could not dream of or imagine. Hurry Down Sunshine is the chronicle of that journey, and its effect on Sally and those closest to her-her brother and grandmother, her mother and stepmother, and, not least of all, the author himself. Among Greenbergs unforgettable gallery of characters are an unconventional psychiatrist, an Orthodox Jewish patient, a manic Classics professor, a movie producer, and a landlord with literary dreams. Unsentimental, nuanced, and deeply humane, Hurry Down Sunshine holds the reader in a mesmerizing state of suspension between the mundane and the transcendent.
“The psychotic break of his fifteen-year-old daughter is the grit around which Michael Greenberg forms the pearl that is Hurry Down Sunshine. It is a brilliant, taut, entirely original study of a suffering child and a family and marriage under siege. I know of no other book about madness whose claim to scientific knowledge is so modest and whose artistic achievement is so great.” - Janet Malcolm, author of The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath & Ted Hughes and The Journalist and the Murderer
“One of the most gripping and disturbingly honest books I have ever read. The courage Michael Greenberg shows in narrating the story of his adolescent daughters descent into psychosis is matched by his acute understanding of how alone each of us, sane or manic, is in our processing of reality and our attempts to get others to appreciate what seems important to us. This is a remarkable memoir.” - Phillip Lopate, author of Two Marriages and Waterfront: A Journey Around Manhattan
About the Author
A native New Yorker, Michael Greenberg is a columnist for the Times Literary Supplement (London), where his wide-ranging essays have been appearing since 2003. His fiction, criticism, and travel pieces have been published widely. He lives in New York with his wife and nine-year-old son.
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