Synopses & Reviews
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
"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.)
"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)
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.
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.
Reading Group Guide
1. Why does the author doubt Sallys psychosis? How does each family member deal with the crisis differently, and what do their reactions tell you about them?
2. The author refers to the illness of James Joyces daughter and how Joyce copes with Lucias madness. Discuss the differences and similarities between Greenbergs and Joyces reactions to their daughters illnesses.
3. Consider the authors grief over Sallys illness in relation to his mothers guilt over her troubled son, Steven. In what ways are parental guilt intensified in times of crisis?
4. Before her psychotic episode, Sally refuses to believe Pats devotion to her is sincere. How does their relationship change as Sally battles to overcome the psychosis? How does Pats revelation about her close friend after the fight with Michael shed light on her devotion to Sally as a mother?
5. How does the Hasidic family respond to Noahs psychosis? How was it different from Sallys family? Were there any similarities? Why do you think Noah and Sally were drawn to each other?
6. Throughout the story, the author interjects scenes that reflect current events happening in the world. How does Greenberg use these events to give the reader a better understanding of what he is going through?
7. Greenbergs mother arrives at the hospital dressed in a new outfit each day. Similarly, when Greenberg returns to his studio to write for the first time since Sally has come home, he removes all references to chaos and crisis from his book. Greenberg writes, “the harder the blow, the more polish is required”. Do you think a mutual need to restore order is an effort to fix Sally or simply a defense mechanism?
8. When Greenberg takes a dose of Sallys medication to try and see the world as she does, the reader also gets a glimpse of that world. What is your reaction? Does it change Greenbergs perception of her illness? How does Greenbergs medicated state influence his meeting with Jean-Paul?
9. How is the narrators relationship with his brother, Steven, both a responsibility he enjoys as well as a source of burden for him? Cite examples.
10. Greenberg describes infant Sally, as distinctly fiery: “a thrasher, a gripper, a grasper, a yanker of fingers and ears”. In what ways does Sallys madness inform the way the author reflects on her infancy and childhood?
11. Compare Sallys use of the name “Father” to Greenbergs own description of himself as her “touchstone of sanity”. How does this change after his fight with Pat?
12. In the midst of a crisis, families either pull together or are torn apart. How did Sallys illness change the dynamics between family members?
13. How is psychosis understood and misunderstood in society, and how has this changed over time? If Steven were raised in Sallys generation, do you think he would have turned out differently?
14. Do you feel that Greenberg and Pat and Robin did a good job in caring for Sally during her time of crisis? Would you have responded differently?
15. Would you describe the relationship between Sallys biological mother Robin and her stepmother Pat as tense? Harmonious? What do you think of the position of a stepmother in such a situation?
16. Do you think Dr. Lensing was an effective therapist to Sally?
17. James Joyce called psychosis “the most elusive disease known to man and unknown to medicine.” Do you think metal illness is a medical disease or an extreme aspect of who we are as human beings?
18. Throughout Hurry Down Sunshine we see glimpses of Sallys unusual verbal brilliance. Do you think these flashes of brilliance are symptoms of Sallys psychosis or an expression of who she really is? Do you think it is possible to separate Sallys behavior while psychotic from her personality and way of being when she is not psychotic or do they seem to be aspects of a single person?