Love in the Asylum [NOOK Book]

Overview

From an author whose work has been called 'haunted and joyous and heartbreaking all at once' (Washington Post Book World) comes an unforgettable novel of two lost souls who find love and salvation against all odds.

Can love save those who believe they are beyond redemption? In and out of a swank north–eastern rehab centre more than a dozen times in ten years, Alba Elliot, a 25–year–old children's book writer and manic–depressive, believes she is a hopeless case. But an unlikely ...

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Love in the Asylum

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Overview

From an author whose work has been called 'haunted and joyous and heartbreaking all at once' (Washington Post Book World) comes an unforgettable novel of two lost souls who find love and salvation against all odds.

Can love save those who believe they are beyond redemption? In and out of a swank north–eastern rehab centre more than a dozen times in ten years, Alba Elliot, a 25–year–old children's book writer and manic–depressive, believes she is a hopeless case. But an unlikely relationship with Oscar, a 30–year–old drug addict whose 'recreation' has cost him everything, and a century–old story hidden in the institution's library bring about changes that Alba could never have imagined.

Brought together by fate, influenced by forces as beautiful and powerful as they are unforeseen, Alba and Oscar will slowly rise from the ashes of despair and self–destruction and, in the midst of righting an old wrong, begin to heal their battered spirits. A beautifully crafted, heartfelt tale of tragedy and triumph, Lisa Carey's moving third novel is a testament to the surprising resilience of the human heart.

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Editorial Reviews

BookPage
“Touching [and] multilayered.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061976995
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/6/2009
  • Sold by: HARPERCOLLINS
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 758,126
  • File size: 583 KB

Meet the Author

Lisa Carey is the author of The Mermaids Singing, In the Country of the Young, and Love in the Asylum. She lived in Ireland for five years and now resides in Portland, Maine, with her husband and their son.

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Read an Excerpt

Love in the Asylum
A Novel

Chapter One

The Asylum

An asylum, Alba believes, is where you are sent when you want to die -- a sanctuary for the prevention of suicide.

Alba's asylum, Abenaki Hospital, sits, elegant as a hotel, atop one hundred acres of land -- devoted to farming in the days when inmates worked for their stay -- now grown over with fields of wildflowers and the occasional wooded grove, blue-gray mountains skulking in the distance. To get there you must cross the Manasis River, giving your name to the security guard in the hut that waits before the covered bridge. The nearest town is almost twenty miles down Rural Route 3 -- a sleepy Maine village where the residents have the hospital's phone number on speed dial, for when they spot a suspicious character on Pleasant Street. Though most of the inmates these days are self-committed, leaving Abenaki is made so inconvenient that, once inside, the majority of patients, out of lethargy or comfort or discouragement, do not think of escaping. Except of course for the drug addicts, for whom special precautions are taken.

Abenaki is an Algonquin word meaning "People of the Dawnland." In the eighteenth century, the land was occupied by a small tribe of Abenaki Indians, who had managed to save a scrap of their homeland by maintaining a neutral position between warring French and English colonists, and making themselves useful to both. There was a tradition -- no one knew quite how it started -- of sending white women off to live with these natives: wives, mothers and spinster daughters who had displayed behavior that could not be explained or cured by local doctors.Women who wept too copiously and often; women who walked or screamed in their sleep; women who attacked their husbands with sharp instruments, or defecated in their own kitchens; women who tried to take their own lives. The Abenaki were thought to be especially tolerant of the old, the sick and the insane; some believed they had secret, potent drugs that could cure things white medicine couldn't even diagnose. But mostly the women were sent there because they could be; the Indians took them in and saved the white families from shame and inconvenience. There were stories of husbands who, wracked with guilt, went riding out to see their wives and found them leatherskinned and toothless, dressed in native clothing, speaking a barbaric language, with no memory of their former lives or no desire to return to them. But generally, people did not visit the Abenaki; they were sent there to disappear.

Ultimately, most of the Abenaki men, lured by the promise of better land, became Revolutionary soldiers and were killed in the war. The women, both Indian and adopted white, died in a massacre in the winter of 1777, the details of which remain a mystery. In the aftermath of the war, the land was bought, despite the rumors of spells left behind by grudge-hungry Indians, by a doctor who had controversial theories about the origins and treatment of insanity.

A mental asylum, retreat, center or hospital -- depending on the politically correct terminology of the day -- has existed on the Abenaki land ever since. The name has been changed a number of times. At the beginning of the twentieth century, when it was run by the Catholic Church, it was called Saint Dymphna's Asylum, after the Irish patroness of nervous illness, and resembled a convent, with halls full of stealthy nuns. Nowadays it is one of the most renowned and expensive hospitals in New England, and includes adult and adolescent wards, as well as a drug rehab program with a highly publicized success rate. Famous people come here, and praise the staff in interviews in People magazine; movies have been filmed among the half-dozen Georgian buildings, where only a close-up lens reveals heavy gridiron lining the glass windows. Behind the main buildings are a few log cabins, left over from when the hospital housed both staff and patients in a pavilion plan. Though they should be torn down, there are some who feel the outbuildings give the place a sense of history -- as if those native women are still there, tending pots over a fire. Of course, the cabins were built long after the Native Americans were gone, but this is conveniently forgotten. The movie directors love them.

No one disputes that the hospital has saved lives, though it has also lost a few -- in bathrooms, the river, on tree limbs in the woods, and, once, in one of the historical shacks -- but these episodes are rare, not to mention hushed up. In 1983, the name of the hospital was changed back to Abenaki, partly because of the inspiring translation-- the doctors think dawn is a hopeful word -- but mostly because it validated a new plaque endowed with the words ESTABLISHED, 1789.

When Alba Elliot was still in high school, she traveled with her father to San Francisco. They took a boat tour to Alcatraz, and when Alba stood in the concrete prison yard and saw the city's skyline across the water -- looking like life held captive and miniaturized in a confetti-filled dome -- she thought immediately of Abenaki. She'd already been a guest there twice, and remembered that, late at night, through certain hospital windows, she could see the faint glow of real life beyond the borders of that unused cushion of land. Prison, she thought, would be similar to a mental asylum. Not as comfortable, but operating under the same dichotomy of rehabilitation and punishment. A place where you watched your life tick by. Alcatraz became her nickname for the hospital, and she always says it with a biting, almost furious humor, which her father refuses to find amusing.

Alba knows Abenaki's history not because she has been there so many times that the nurses remember her birthday, but because she read about it in a book she found while organizing the hospital's new library ...

Love in the Asylum
A Novel
. Copyright © by Lisa Carey. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Read More Show Less

First Chapter

Love in the Asylum
A Novel

Chapter One

The Asylum

An asylum, Alba believes, is where you are sent when you want to die -- a sanctuary for the prevention of suicide.

Alba's asylum, Abenaki Hospital, sits, elegant as a hotel, atop one hundred acres of land -- devoted to farming in the days when inmates worked for their stay -- now grown over with fields of wildflowers and the occasional wooded grove, blue-gray mountains skulking in the distance. To get there you must cross the Manasis River, giving your name to the security guard in the hut that waits before the covered bridge. The nearest town is almost twenty miles down Rural Route 3 -- a sleepy Maine village where the residents have the hospital's phone number on speed dial, for when they spot a suspicious character on Pleasant Street. Though most of the inmates these days are self-committed, leaving Abenaki is made so inconvenient that, once inside, the majority of patients, out of lethargy or comfort or discouragement, do not think of escaping. Except of course for the drug addicts, for whom special precautions are taken.

Abenaki is an Algonquin word meaning "People of the Dawnland." In the eighteenth century, the land was occupied by a small tribe of Abenaki Indians, who had managed to save a scrap of their homeland by maintaining a neutral position between warring French and English colonists, and making themselves useful to both. There was a tradition -- no one knew quite how it started -- of sending white women off to live with these natives: wives, mothers and spinster daughters who had displayed behavior that could not be explained or cured by local doctors. Women who wept too copiously and often; women who walked or screamed in their sleep; women who attacked their husbands with sharp instruments, or defecated in their own kitchens; women who tried to take their own lives. The Abenaki were thought to be especially tolerant of the old, the sick and the insane; some believed they had secret, potent drugs that could cure things white medicine couldn't even diagnose. But mostly the women were sent there because they could be; the Indians took them in and saved the white families from shame and inconvenience. There were stories of husbands who, wracked with guilt, went riding out to see their wives and found them leatherskinned and toothless, dressed in native clothing, speaking a barbaric language, with no memory of their former lives or no desire to return to them. But generally, people did not visit the Abenaki; they were sent there to disappear.

Ultimately, most of the Abenaki men, lured by the promise of better land, became Revolutionary soldiers and were killed in the war. The women, both Indian and adopted white, died in a massacre in the winter of 1777, the details of which remain a mystery. In the aftermath of the war, the land was bought, despite the rumors of spells left behind by grudge-hungry Indians, by a doctor who had controversial theories about the origins and treatment of insanity.

A mental asylum, retreat, center or hospital -- depending on the politically correct terminology of the day -- has existed on the Abenaki land ever since. The name has been changed a number of times. At the beginning of the twentieth century, when it was run by the Catholic Church, it was called Saint Dymphna's Asylum, after the Irish patroness of nervous illness, and resembled a convent, with halls full of stealthy nuns. Nowadays it is one of the most renowned and expensive hospitals in New England, and includes adult and adolescent wards, as well as a drug rehab program with a highly publicized success rate. Famous people come here, and praise the staff in interviews in People magazine; movies have been filmed among the half-dozen Georgian buildings, where only a close-up lens reveals heavy gridiron lining the glass windows. Behind the main buildings are a few log cabins, left over from when the hospital housed both staff and patients in a pavilion plan. Though they should be torn down, there are some who feel the outbuildings give the place a sense of history -- as if those native women are still there, tending pots over a fire. Of course, the cabins were built long after the Native Americans were gone, but this is conveniently forgotten. The movie directors love them.

No one disputes that the hospital has saved lives, though it has also lost a few -- in bathrooms, the river, on tree limbs in the woods, and, once, in one of the historical shacks -- but these episodes are rare, not to mention hushed up. In 1983, the name of the hospital was changed back to Abenaki, partly because of the inspiring translation-- the doctors think dawn is a hopeful word -- but mostly because it validated a new plaque endowed with the words ESTABLISHED, 1789.

When Alba Elliot was still in high school, she traveled with her father to San Francisco. They took a boat tour to Alcatraz, and when Alba stood in the concrete prison yard and saw the city's skyline across the water -- looking like life held captive and miniaturized in a confetti-filled dome -- she thought immediately of Abenaki. She'd already been a guest there twice, and remembered that, late at night, through certain hospital windows, she could see the faint glow of real life beyond the borders of that unused cushion of land. Prison, she thought, would be similar to a mental asylum. Not as comfortable, but operating under the same dichotomy of rehabilitation and punishment. A place where you watched your life tick by. Alcatraz became her nickname for the hospital, and she always says it with a biting, almost furious humor, which her father refuses to find amusing.

Alba knows Abenaki's history not because she has been there so many times that the nurses remember her birthday, but because she read about it in a book she found while organizing the hospital's new library ...

Love in the Asylum
A Novel
. Copyright © by Lisa Carey. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Read More Show Less

Reading Group Guide

Introduction

Alba Elliot is tired of being crazy. In and out of Abenaki Mental Hospital more than a dozen times in ten years, and fed up with diagnoses that come without cures and a life organized by a days-of-the-week pill case, the 25-year-old children's book writer is waiting for a miracle.

Oscar Jameson, a 30-year-old drug addict, is not looking for anything so profound. Oscar doesn't believe he has a problem, and resents the counselors, the other addicts, and his brother, all of whom insist he belongs there. The only activities Oscar looks forward to are the spirited, sarcastic conversations that have begun with Alba on the hospital lawn.

Then one day, in the back pages of a hospital library book, Alba finds a letter written 70 years earlier but never sent. Mary Doherty, who was committed by her husband and taken from her children, left behind secret missives about the atrocities done to her and her belief in an ancient healing power. As Alba pieces together Mary's heartbreaking chronicle, she begins to set her hopes on a different kind of medicine.

Questions for Discussion

  1. What images did you have of Abenaki Hospital and its grounds? What connection does the hospital have with healing performed by the Abenaki Indians?

  2. Who is Alba Elliott and how has she come to reside at Abenaki Hospital? How would you describe her emotional and mental state at the start of the novel?

  3. What brings Oscar Jameson to Abenaki? How does he first meet Alba? How would you characterize their relationship from the beginning? How does their relationship change over the course of the novel?

  4. How does Alba feel about drug addiction versus mental illness? For the characters of Love in the Asylum, is there an illness hierarchy?

  5. Who is Mary Doherty, and why is she confined to Saint Dymphna's Asylum? What parallels did you see between Mary Doherty's experience of being separated from her son, Peter, and Alba's frustration at not getting to know her son? How does Mary channel her past, and how does this experience help her and the other women at the asylum?

  6. In what ways is the field trip to the fair a pivotal moment in Alba and Oscar's relationship? What happens to each of them at the fair, and how does it affect them?

  7. Discuss the family relationships in Love in the Asylum. What were some of the difficult family circumstances that Alba and Oscar had to cope with? To what extent do you think those difficulties were connected to their physical and emotional conditions?

  8. Why does Alba go to such lengths to seek out Peter Doherty? What role does he play in her life? Is meeting Peter as important to Alba as meeting her son?

  9. Where does Oscar and his brother David find Alba when she attempts suicide? What is significant about the location she has chosen? How does Alba react when she is discovered?

  10. How did you interpret the end of Love in the Asylum? What future do you see for Alba and Oscar?

About the Author

Lisa Carey wrote her debut novel, The Mermaids Singing, while working toward her M.F.A. at Vermont College. Her book has since been translated into seven languages and optioned for film, as has her second novel, In the Country of the Young. Ms. Carey lived in Ireland for five years and now resides in Portland, Maine, with her husband and their Irish-immigrant dog.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 20, 2005

    Confusing...

    The book itself was good, and followed the title, but the main charcther keeps going back and reading letters of a past painent, and the past painent is so much like the main charcther it gets a little confusing. You think the letters have to do with something about the main charcther(s) life, but you never know...Also, it was hard to read because when people speak there are no quotes so you have to read allot to understand. Even though all this sounds horrid, the book is great.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 20, 2004

    such an awesome book!

    this book has everything; love, insanity, drug problems, history, men's point of view, women's third person, letters, attempted suicide, adoption, secrets, running away and bending/breaking the rules. in a wonderfully written 4-section book, it consists of Oscar's point of view, Alba's story, Mary's letters from 45 years ago, and the patients documents. raw emotion, reality, and lovely storyline keeps you glued to the pages.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 24, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted July 24, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 5, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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