The author, Robert Kolker, was introduced to two sisters, Margaret and Lindsay (formerly Mary) Galvin, who wanted someone to document and tell the story of their family in an unbiased and informative way. The Galvins were a family of fourteen: twelve children (ten boys and two girls) and two parents, Mimi and Don. The oldest child, Donald, was born in 1945 and the youngest, Mary, exactly twenty years later in 1965. Six of the boys would eventually be diagnosed with schizophrenia (although it was later learned that one of them mostly likely was bipolar not schizophrenic) and this had an impact not just on their family, but on the history of researching schizophrenia itself.
I would say about 75% of this book is the history of the Galvin family, as researched by Kolker through extensive interviews, medical records, and other documentation. The other 25% helpfully traces the history of research into schizophrenia, and how the the thinking about the disease and treatment of it has evolved over time. I knew almost nothing about schizophrenia going in other than what I have picked up through exposure in film and TV (TBH, the vast majority of which came solely from the very memorable series of episodes* of ER where David Krumholtz has a psychotic break and kills and injures handfuls of people). I feel like I have a pretty good grasp on at least the basics after having read this, but one of the things about schizophrenia is that even after intensive research, there is actually still relatively little known about it.
*Some quick Googling has led me to find this oral history of the infamous scene that EW published in 2018. So that’s kind of neat.
I was interested in this book the whole way through, but some tough things are covered here, among others: rape, bullying, incest, psychosis, misdiagnosis, attempted murder, domestic violence, murder/suicide, depression and anxiety, and PTSD. The Galvins had a rough go of it, so if you’re looking for a light read, this isn’t it. What it is is a nuanced, carefully researched look into schizophrenia and how important the proper mental health can be not just for individual health but for the health of families and communities.
CBR BINGO: Book Club (Plus three more BINGOs: Book Club / Shelfie / Rep / New Series / Machiney & Book Club / Mythic / Self Care / People / Free! & The Wilds / Home / Flora / Cityscape / Book Club)