Hurry Down Sunshine

Hurry Down Sunshine

3.4 33
by Michael Greenberg

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Hurry Down Sunshine is an extraordinary family story and a memoir of exceptional power. In it, Michael Greenberg recounts in vivid detail the remarkable summer when, at the age of fifteen, his daughter was struck mad. It begins with Sally's sudden visionary crack-up on the streets of Greenwich Village, and

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Hurry Down Sunshine is an extraordinary family story and a memoir of exceptional power. In it, Michael Greenberg recounts in vivid detail the remarkable summer when, at the age of fifteen, his daughter was struck mad. It begins with Sally's sudden 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. It is a tale of a family broken open, then painstakingly, movingly stitched together again.

Among Greenberg's unforgettable cast of characters are an unconventional psychiatrist, an Orthodox Jewish patient, a manic Classics professor, a movie producer, and a landlord with literary aspirations. Unsentimental, nuanced, and deeply humane, Hurry Down Sunshine is essential reading in the literature of affliction alongside classics such as Girl, Interrupted and An Unquiet Mind.

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Editorial Reviews

Melissa Holbrook Pierson
If your average health insurance policy is to be believed, mental illness is hardly worth noting: 20 visits or less; a few pills. Either that or it is too monumentally thoroughgoing to be dealt with in any actuarial manner and is thus best left unmentioned. Let those who have it face it as they may.

Writers face it, of course, by writing about it. Since Robert Burton's 1621 Anatomy of Melancholy, the library of mental affliction has grown large, especially of late: there is William Styron's Darkness Visible; Andrew Solomon's The Noonday Demon; An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison; Blue Genes by Christopher Lukas. Right on the latter's heels now comes Hurry Down Sunshine, the Times Literary Supplement columnist Michael Greenberg's visceral recounting of the summer of 1996, when his teenage daughter, Sally, was suddenly overtaken by manic-depression.

John Dryden observed (in Absalom and Achitophel), "Great wits are sure to madness near allied / And thin partitions do their bounds divide"; it is precisely on this uncertain edge between genius and insanity that Greenberg's story skates. For bipolar (as the disease is now known) is, strangely, an affliction centered on sometimes high-flown ideas and the words that express them, symptomatically in pressured speech replete with puns. Indeed, the first time Greenberg sees Sally, now medicated, in the psych ward after her admittance, she remarks, "They stole my words."

Great artists, and particularly writers -- Byron, Keats, Coleridge, Virginia Woolf, Robert Lowell -- are disproportionately affected, and it follows suit that Sally, too, has verbal gifts. (Dr. Jamison, herself a sufferer, devoted another book to the study of this peculiar confluence.) So it is that bipolar often goes unrecognized as a severe yet treatable malady, and so it was that Greenberg at first wished to see it as anything -- youthful intellectual exuberance, a mishap of recreational drugs -- but an illness that would take Sally, and him as her father, on a bruising ride over rocky terrain.

Although it occurs in the mind, the onset of the disease is concrete in its ramifications. And in Greenberg's telling, we can practically feel the heat of July as it oppresses New York City and the West Village tenement where he lives the type of bohemian artist's life that used to be common but is now rare in those high-rent precincts; we can see the street where Sally flips out, kicking a trashcan in her "irate euphoria" (the author's perfect description of the psychotic mania that is often the first noticed phase of this cyclic debility).

The chronological narrative, with its imperative to follow along quickly so we may see what's next, is anchored in the observation of physical detail -- which paradoxically, and pleasantly, raises it to the realm of the philosophical. The nature of the disease leads Greenberg to explore the nature of personality itself: where does it end and pathology begin? His parental love for Sally, coupled with this careful observation, allows her to shine in all her complexity -- and we can almost taste the stew of frustration, despair, and cogitation that fuels her mania. The central tragedy, as he sees Sally engendering it, is that finally, "There is no I, no reliable self to retreat to or upon which to stand."

Any investigation of bipolar is at base a metaphysics, a discussion of who we are. This becomes evident to Greenberg early on: by page 27, he is arm-wrestling with the obverse of his daughter's grandiose insistences ("You don't know anything about me. Do you, Father?"), her apparent joy, her sense of control over concepts and life itself:

She is beleaguered by certitude because she is certain of nothing. She thinks she's eloquent, when she can't put together a coherent sentence. She demands control because, in some interstice of her psyche, she is hurtling out of control.

He is a writer; his wife, Pat, a dancer; Sally's mother, Robin, an artist -- this child of theirs was cooked in the creative oven, and (as we are all secretly proud to note of our offspring) she came out bearing their artistic impress. So Greenberg is especially worried that the treatment he knows will save his child will also diminish her, will "blunt" the sensibility that makes her who she is. At the diagnosis, then, the author fears he is present at what amounts to his daughter's death.

Being the story of something unexpected (a.k.a. life itself), this is also the story of other sunderings, not just of Sally with so-called normalcy. There is Greenberg's parting of the ways with Robin, their young love portrayed in its innocent first flush but then left, in the recounting, to peter out inchoately. There is the violent crescendo of an almost-break with his current wife; this is laid at the doorstep of his own inability to deal with anger and the stress of Sally's breakdown. And there is some ancient history (as always) with his mother, along with his mentally unstable brother, Steve. All of these relationships remain strangely brittle on the page, as if he knows a memoir has to include them because they are included, but all the truly warm blood flows between him and Sally, with little left to fully animate any other bond. Robin moves through the account as a new age–ist caricature; Steve is an angry and furtive character held at arm's length by the author until such time as he needs him to shade in his picture of chronic craziness as a category of burden. "The afterlife of what has been thrown away," Steve declaims, on the subject of the junk he has taken to selling on the street. But this bit of poetry sounds suspiciously more fresh from the author's pen than recalled from someone's decade-old speech.

Still, at the story's conclusion, if in true life there is ever such (and Greenberg ends by saying no, there is not), the paragraphs begin to fairly hurtle along. It is here that Greenberg hits stride, with ideas, comprehensions, and forgivenesses galloping together in beautiful gait. He allows us to see that it won't go on forever like this, but for a moment, all can be well. Until it isn't, again. --Melissa Holbrook Pierson

Melissa Holbrook Pierson is the author of three works of nonfiction: The Perfect Vehicle, Dark Horses and Black Beauties, and The Place You Love Is Gone, all from Norton. She is writing a book on B. F. Skinner and the ethics of dog training.

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Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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5.20(w) x 7.98(h) x 0.78(d)

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

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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Hurry Down Sunshine 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
sandiek More than 1 year ago
Hurry Down Sunshine is Michael Greenberg's painful memoir of the summer his fifteen year old daughter was diagnosed as bipolar. Bright, outgoing and verbal, he and his wife didn't notice that Sally was edging closer and closer to the edge. She was staying up all night, writing frantically in her journals and walking for hours in New York. But it was summer with summer's relaxed structure and they thought it was the typical teenage behavior of finding one's self and one's voice. Then came the day when it became apparent that this was more than normal teenage angst. Sally became very agitated, unable to stop talking and babbling, eager to share her revelations. The family took her to the hospital, and then were appalled to find that she needed to be admitted to the psychological ward. The book details family reactions. There was guilt, disbelief, and incredible amounts of worry about what would happen to Sally in the future. Compounding the issue, the author had a brother that had always struggled with mental illness. Seeing his maladjusted life, the pain of realising that his daughter might be headed down the same road was almost unbearable. Yet the book is inspring also. The reader walks with the family through recovery as different drugs are administered, each with it's own set of side effects. Sally was able to come home as the summer progressed, and by the time the summer was over, was able to go back to her high school. The book details how her struggle changed the family and its dynamics forever, as they learned to live with this lifetime affliction. This book is recommended for those struggling with the diagnosis of mental illness or for parents facing any type of life-altering issue in their child's life. It is also recommended for those who have been diagnosed, giving hope for how to live with the new reality.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
ruby28 More than 1 year ago
Wonderfully written and very insightful, I loved this story.
books4gail More than 1 year ago
How generous of Michael Greenberg to write with such honesty of the summer of his 15 year old daughter's descent into madness (and hers for allowing this story to be told.) The summer includes, aside from Sally, difficulties with his adult brother and his mental illness, seemingly honest accounting of the relationship with former and current wife--all a challenge given the serious mental illness they are dealing with. I loved the literary references, especially to James Joyce and his daughter's mental illness. He writes in a new preface that young people were taken with Sally's story--I would definitely recommend to young and old.
SUZYQ22 More than 1 year ago
I found this book about Bipolar Disorder to be very helpful. I have found it helpful to read as many books as possible about this disorder as my daughter has Bipolar 1. Another new book just released I found inspiring and has given me great hope is a new memoir called I just want my daughter back - coming to terms with Bipolar 1 by BC Levinson that I found on . Seeing how others cope with bipolar disorder has made a big difference in our journey. It gives hope to those of us walking in these shoes. I actually found the new book through you can even chat with the author @BIPOLARSMOM2 . Very nice lady.. Hope this helps Sue