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Rochelle L. HoltYes, I dance in the shadows of that great tree that is you and Daddy alludes to madness, i.e. Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Robert Lowell, etc. In this case, the victim is an average Canadian salesman with lyrical aspirations. Dolores Brandon is one of his daughters, deeply affected throughout life by her father's mental disorder.
"Dad's illness was his most resounding legacy . . . Every day of our family life required a personal adjustment to his overwhelming, darkly marvelous presence."
This is not a bitter testimony. It is written in a style that alternates between free verse and dialogue of a play, befitting the author who at one time was an actress. Here, she purges herself of the past as in Antigone, while paving the way for greater understanding of what is still feared in our society. Mental illness is the last taboo, the secret that must never be admitted or shared, whether one is victim or part of the scene, notwithstanding available information on the subject.
Alvin Brandon suffered with a manic-depressive disorder in the 50s and 60s when medications and methods of treatment in hospitals were primitive. Shock treatments are still in vogue today despite a variety of prescriptive medications more readily available.
The second half of the memoir is more poignant, including poems by the father and the author as prelude to her second marriage, this time to an African-American man, following her father's death with cancer. "Mum refused to see me or speak." Such estrangement endured for a decade before private mother/daughter meetings began.
When Ms. Brandon met Anaïs Nin, "She became the mother of my soul. In a letter she wrote: 'I am adopting you to replace your mother. I love you both for transcending absurd boundaries.'" After a score of years, the mother finally met the author's husband, and a new, more favorable relationship began for the three parties.
Dr. Susan Kavaler-Adler, Executive Director of the The Object Relations Institute for Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis in New York, says, "The reader can follow the path of grief and rebirth along with the author and find a language to express their own individual grief and love process."
In the Shadow of Madness took immense courage to create. In many ways, the reader feels as though he or she is listening to psychoanalytic tapes of a patient in therapy. However, in this case, we are able to experience carthartic joy for Ms. Brandon's rebirth despite a lifetime of suffering. She is to be commended for telling such an honest story to enlighten everyone regarding the difficulties any family has and the scars they bear when one member is severely mentally ill, especially a parent.
The artwork for the cover by Marilyn Brandon is reminiscent of Renate Druks' art for some of Anaïs Nin's own books; it's modernist and surreal at the same time, quite stunning.