Love in the Asylum

Love in the Asylum

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by Lisa Carey

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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


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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“Touching [and] multilayered.”

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HarperCollins Publishers
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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.

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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Love in the Asylum 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.