AMERICAN HISTORICAL NOVELS discussion

Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family
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Hidden Valley Road: R. Kolker > Day 2 - author post

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message 1: by Robert (new)

Robert (bobkolker) Thanks again for the chance to talk about my research into HIDDEN VALLEY ROAD, my historical nonfiction book about an extraordinary family's experiences with mental illness. Since this group focuses on history, I’m happy to talk about some of my historical research for this book.

The Galvin boys took ill in the 1960s and 1970s, a time when so little was understood about schizophrenia—and so many different theories were colliding with one another—that the search for an explanation overshadowed everything about their lives. They lived through the eras of institutionalization and shock therapy, the debates between psychotherapy versus medication, the needle-in-a-haystack search for genetic markers for the disease, and the profound disagreements about the cause and origin of the illness itself. There was nothing generic about how they each experienced the illness: Donald, Jim, Brian, Joseph, Matthew, and Peter each suffered differently, requiring differing treatments and a panoply of shifting diagnoses, and prompting conflicting theories about the nature of schizophrenia. Some of those theories could be especially cruel to the parents, who often took the blame, as if they’d caused the disease by something they did or did not do.

In the 1950s, psychoanalysts became smitten with the theory of the “schizophrenogenic mother,” coined by the therapist Frieda Fromm-Reichmann (the basis for the miracle-working therapist in the influential schizophrenia memoir I NEVER PROMISED YOU A ROSE GARDEN), in which mothers trapped their children in neurotic loops of submission and confusion and resentment until finally some of them retreated from the world. When, in 1960, Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO placed the blame for the most famous delusional homicidal maniac of cinema, Norman Bates, squarely on the shoulders of his dead mother, it made all the sense in the world.

Mimi Galvin, the mother in the family, couldn’t have known at the time how terribly this trend in psychotherapy would end up working against her. By the 1950s, the psychiatric profession had set its sights on mothers like her. Once her boys got sick, she felt targeted. And she tried to fight back.

So now, tell me about your research, and the debates over the periods of history you've studied. How has your research shaped your narratives? Can't wait to read all of your comments.


message 2: by Amanda (new)

Amanda (drpowell) | 376 comments With the popularity of Hamilton, which I loved, I have spent a lot of time researching the debates about the legitimacy of the Reynolds Pamphlet and other "tweeks" to Hamilton's story. my personal research about education is far less fun though compulsory education has certainly been a political tool across the globe since Horace Mann, perhaps longer.


message 3: by Robert (new)

Robert (bobkolker) That’s fascinating- thanks!


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