Sunday, July 5, 2020

Review: Hidden Valley Road

Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American FamilyHidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is a combination of heartbreaking and fascinating, and it weaves a compelling, if tragic story as the author tells the story of a family beset by schizophrenia.

It definitely reminded me of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks in many ways. One thing I enjoyed about this book was a closer look at the subjects of the book, though due to the nature of the illness it's limited to the family members who aren't mentally ill.

The story of the family is by turns frustrating, shocking and saddening. As I read I couldn't help but wonder if the story would have turned out differently if the six sick boys had been born just a few decades later - if their parents had been products of different backgrounds, more able to reach out for help. The parents undeniably bear a lot of responsibility on their shoulders, but at the same time the era they were born into or grew up in was so ill-prepared for this sort of illness, especially on this scale, that I found myself having a lot of empathy for them. It's easy to have criticisms of them but I wonder how many could stand in Mimi or Don's shoes and survive what they did.

Intertwined with the story of the family is the story of the advancements of our understanding of schizophrenia - I'd lke to be able to say 'treatment', but I'm not sure if that would really be accurate. One thing the book makes clear is that we are only now truly starting to develop an idea of how the disorder works and what it encompasses. Hopefully that work will help us as we move into the future, so that one day other people won't have to go through what Don, Jim, Brian, Matthew, Joseph, Peter and the rest of their family did.

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