The Washington Post
Hurry down Sunshine: A Father's Memoir of Love and Madnessby Michael Greenberg
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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.
“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 daughter’s 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
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Times Literary Supplement (UK) columnist Greenberg's elegiac, beautifully crafted memoir chronicles the summer his teenaged daughter, Sally, lost her mind to madness. In it, Greenberg observes the experience and its effect on everyone involved with meticulous care. At times acutely painful, at times painfully funny, his story alternates between the progression of Sally's bewildering, frightening decline and Greenberg's own at times comically absurd experience as he simultaneously deals with a dependent brother suffering from his own demons; a difficult, obtuse wife; and a New Age ex-wife who, after each visit, offers cosmic explanations for her daughter's condition before retreating to her home in the country. Characters from the psychiatric ward where Sally spends nearly a month are often indistinguishable in their strangeness from the doctors themselves, giving the atmosphere of the hospital a hauntingly surrealistic air. The whole effect is one of a wrathful storm passing through Greenberg's life, turning every relationship upside down as it shattered any semblance of inner peace in both father and daughter and destroyed their ability to communicate at the time. Sure to become a new classic in the literature of mental illness; highly recommended for all public libraries.
“Michael Greenberg's excellently written memoir … echoes the genre's most poignant predecessors. … Greenberg's wry, lighting-bolt prose and unsentimental portrayal of his family's ordeal make for a brilliant, engrossing sketch of mental illness and its terrifying, destructive fallout.”
Oliver Sacks, New York Review of Books
“In its detail, depth, richness, and sheer intelligence, Hurry Down Sunshine will be recognized as a classic of its kind ….Lucid, realistic, compassionate, illuminating, Hurry Down Sunshine may provide a sort of guide for those who have to negotiate the dark regions of the soul—a guide, too, for their families and friends, for all those who want to understand what their loved ones are going through.”
Time, Lev Grossman
“[an]… extraordinary memoir…”
“The prose is so fluid that it transports us into the author's head, making his shock, fear, and love our own.”
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“[Hurry Down Sunshine is]… almost impossible to put down.”
“…deeply affecting and poetically rendered…”
Description: This memoir details the psychotic break and eventual recovery of the author's 15-year-old daughter.
Purpose: The implication is that the author felt the need to express his experiences in writing, and to educate readers about dealing with a child suffering from a mental illness. These are certainly worthy objectives, and the author meets them.
Audience: Anyone who has experienced mental illness either personally or in a loved one, or who wishes to be educated about the impact of mental illness, would find this book an interesting read. The author is a credible authority on the subject, as is anyone who has personally dealt with mental illness in a child or loved one.
Features: This memoir outlines the summer of 1996, when the author's daughter has a psychotic break and is eventually diagnosed as suffering from bipolar disorder. The book is divided into three parts, which roughly coincide with diagnosis, stabilization, and acceptance/maintenance. The author, a columnist for a London publication, is a marvelous writer, and his descriptions of his daughter's psychotic behavior and eventual recovery (and the effects on both him and his family) are riveting.
Assessment: This is a harrowing, brutally honest, and extremely well written account of the mental breakdown of a loved one. The author's descriptions of his daughter's behavior offer a much more meaningful lesson for readers about what constitutes mania than could ever be gleaned by reading a textbook. Anyone who has been through a similar experience, or simply wants to read a first-person account of mental illness and its effects, will find this book a good read.
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Read an Excerpt
Sally emerges from her room in a thin hospital gown, snap buttons, no laces or ties. She suddenly looks ageless. The only other time I’ve seen her in a hospital was the night she was born. By that point in our marriage her mother and I were like two people drinking alone in a bar. Not hostile, just miles apart. Yet when Sally appeared, a huge optimism came over us, a physical optimism, primitive and momentarily blind. She was her own truth, complete to herself, so beautifully formed that the jaded maternity nurses marveled at what perfection had just slid into the world. Though she has never set foot in a psychiatric hospital, there is the tacit sense from Sally that she is understood here, she is where she belongs. She acts as if a great burden has been lifted from her. At the same time she is more elevated than ever: feral, glitter-eyed. In 1855 a friend of Robert Schumann observed him at the piano in an asylum near Bonn: “like a machine whose springs are broken, but which still tries to work, jerking convulsively.” Sally appears to be heading toward this maimed point of perpetual motion. Her sole concern is to get her pen back, which has been confiscated with most of her other belongings–belt, matches, shoelaces, keys, anything with glass, and her comb with half its teeth snapped off by her potent hair. She initiates an agitated negotiation with the nurses, which immediately threatens to boil over into a serious scene. The nurses confer like referees after a disputed call. Then they grant her a felt-tip marker and march her back to her room.
What People are saying about this
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 daughter’s 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
Meet 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
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