Catherine's Reviews > The Long Journey Home: A Memoir

The Long Journey Home by Margaret Robison
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Jun 05, 2011

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bookshelves: 2011, aging, gender, mainstream-us, medicine, mental-illness
Read in June, 2011

One of the most compelling and disturbing things about this memoir is Robison's ability to take the reader into the heart of her psychosis. Much of the book is not about being psychotic - there is everyday neglect, an unhappy childhood, a terribly destructive marriage, depression, the saving grace of art, and much about being a confused and chaotic mother - but it's in describing psychosis that Robison is most powerful. The passages describing her commitment to various mental health wards are chilling; the prose that reaches into the frayed and burning edges of her mind as she loses all sense of who she is are frightening and moving both. It's horrifying to consider the stigma against the mentally ill so prevalent in the years Robison describes, the derision with which she was treated as a patient, and the lack of compassion that typified her experiences of being tied down, locked up, and humiliated. No wonder so many of her fellow patients seemed stupefied or terrified by their experience.

Robison's memoir is instructive in the generational effects of mental illness - not just genetically (although there seems a strong likelihood of that given the stories she tells about her extended family) but situationally. Robison learns to be afraid of being crazy while a child, is instructed by her mother in the idea that she is a flawed and terrible person, and her own choices as an adult play out those lessons in a hundred different ways. While Robison is resolutely focused on her own life - this is not an apologia - it's easy to see the periods where her children must have been sad, alone, neglected, and afraid. We gain glimpses of her eldest son's Asperger's, and her youngest son's struggles; we certainly hear by the end of the book how betrayed she feels when she reads her youngest son's memoir, Running With Scissors. Mostly, however, we're invited to see the world from her perspective, and that perspective is both informative and limited.

I'll be interested to read Burrough's Running With Scissors and John Edler Robison's Look Me In The Eye, to see this family from two other perspectives and think through where their recollections diverge. As Robison herself says at the end of her memoir, even if she believes that her sons have fictionalized some of their recollections (and the same, it must be imagined, could be true of her), it's perhaps not as important as the core of what they felt, communicated through whatever stories could get that across. I'm looking forward to reading their works to see.
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