Thirty Rooms to Hide In: Insanity, Addiction, and Rock 'n' Roll in the Shadow of the Mayo Clinic

Thirty Rooms to Hide In: Insanity, Addiction, and Rock 'n' Roll in the Shadow of the Mayo Clinic

3.9 11
by Luke Longstreet Sullivan

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Author Luke Longstreet Sullivan has a simple way of describing his new memoir: “It’s like The Shining . . . only funnier.” Thirty Rooms to Hide In tells the astonishing story of Sullivan’s father and his descent from one of the world’s top orthopedic surgeons at the Mayo Clinic to a man who is increasingly


Author Luke Longstreet Sullivan has a simple way of describing his new memoir: “It’s like The Shining . . . only funnier.” Thirty Rooms to Hide In tells the astonishing story of Sullivan’s father and his descent from one of the world’s top orthopedic surgeons at the Mayo Clinic to a man who is increasingly abusive, alcoholic, and insane, ultimately dying alone on the floor of a Georgia motel room. For his wife and six sons, the years prior to his death were characterized by turmoil, anger, and family dysfunction; but somehow they were also a time of real happiness for Sullivan and his brothers, full of dark humor and much laughter.

Through the 1950s and 1960s, the six brothers had a wildly fun and thoroughly dysfunctional childhood living in a forbidding thirty-room mansion, known as the Millstone, on the outskirts of Rochester, Minnesota. The many rooms of the immense home, as well as their mother’s loving protection, allowed the Sullivan brothers to grow up as normal, mischievous boys. Against a backdrop of the times—the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, fallout shelters, JFK’s assassination, and the Beatles—the cracks in their home life and their father’s psyche continue to widen. When their mother decides to leave the Millstone and move the family across town, the Sullivan boys are able to find solace in each other and in rock ’n’ roll.

As Thirty Rooms to Hide In follows the story of the Sullivan family—at times grim, at others poignant—a wonderful, dark humor lifts the narrative. Tragic, funny, and powerfully evocative of the 1950s and 1960s, Thirty Rooms to Hide In is a tale of public success and private dysfunction, personal and familial resilience, and the strange power of humor to give refuge when it is needed most, even if it can’t always provide the answers.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

If you’re looking for proof that the Great American Family Drama is alive and kicking, here it is. Luke Longstreet Sullivan’s heart wrenching, poignant, and often hilarious family history is laid bare like a shattered bottle of bourbon. I wish more memoirs took the chances this one does. And reached such heights. This is a bravura work.

—Peter Geye, author of Safe from the Sea

Kirkus Reviews
An imposing 30-room mansion provides the backdrop for a "boys will be boys and drunks will be drunks" romp through the 1950s and '60s. Through the eyes of a young boy steeped in comic books, we see how former adman Sullivan (Advertising/Savannah Coll. of Art and Design; Hey, Whipple, Squeeze This: A Guide to Creating Great Ads, 1998) and his five brothers survived their abusive, alcoholic father, a surgeon at the Mayo Clinic. The author peppers the text with the comic-book characters who helped him live within the chaos. He recounts the family legends of BB guns, cherry bombs strapped to arrows, poison ivy–infused squirt guns and a bowl of urine tossed in one brother's face. Sullivan mined decades of letters between his mother and her father, together with his brothers' diaries and journals to provide the narrative and emotional content for his father's slide into rage and addiction. Few lifelines existed for his family. When his father tried to smash a locked door that he, his brother and mother were hiding behind, Sullivan climbed out the second-story window and ran next door for help. However, the neighbor was drunk and couldn't comprehend the danger: "The world reels a little bit and the lesson tattoos itself inside: there are no sane adults in power anywhere." His mother finally moved them out of the house, but she was allowed only a quarter of her husband's salary to support the seven of them. The author mostly explores the brothers' story, but we also understand the trauma his mother endured. Sullivan ably captures the culture of the 1960s with the advent of TV, rock 'n' roll and the limitations of addiction treatment.

Product Details

University of Minnesota Press
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.70(w) x 8.60(h) x 0.90(d)

Meet the Author

Luke Longstreet Sullivan worked in the advertising business for thirty years and is now chair of the advertising department at the Savannah College of Art and Design. He is the author of the popular advertising book Hey Whipple, Squeeze This: A Guide to Creating Great Ads and writes the blog He lives in Savannah with his wife and two sons.

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Thirty Rooms To Hide In 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
annemoss More than 1 year ago
Very cathartic, well written, soul purging, funny yet sad at the same time. It has a remarkable style and the old pictures, letters and diary entries are something we may never see again. Odd to say that I enjoyed the book but I did. I found it amazing these boys lived through their childhood. And their mother? She's a rock. Substance addiction is an awful illness. The author did find a lot of good in all the bad and wrote some damn funny scenes along the way. There are always good things that come out of awful circumstances. I've been through a number of them myself (9 lives at least). The author's mixed emotions about his father are certainly understandable. I, too, have felt that way about relatives who have been raging alcoholics. The scenarios were all too familiar to me as alcoholism runs in my family. We just buried my first cousin's son who died of an Oxycontin overdose. Fortunately, I was not born with the addiction gene. I read the book on the drive to my son's therapeutic boarding school where he is currently. That, after 3.5 months in a wilderness rehab where he was basically taken by kidnappers paid by parents (us). From there he went to the therapeutic boarding school where he is doing well after 7 months of being away from home. After I finished, I left this book with my son on a visit and he donated it to the school library after he read it. Many of the kids there were addicts of some kind prior to going there. My son was not literally addicted but well on his way. The school is a school but also a 12 step program. There is no guarantee, but at least he has a chance of avoiding the life Luke described his Dad of having. Once he's home, it's up to him. The cost of intervening is financially devastating but worth it to save a life. If your kid has cancer, you get fundraisers. But no one has bake sales for the families of drug and alcohol abusers. I have to say of all the things about the book, what struck me was how utterly alone his mother was in dealing with her alcoholic and the family surrounding him. I can hardly believe she was able to do what she did with so little support of any kind. It can be an emotionally isolating and humiliating disease for families of addicts. And this book illustrates her personal struggles. I would definitely recommend 30 Rooms to Hide In.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Riveting, enjoyable and terrifying.  
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sullivan does a solid job of describing the complexity of growing up in a large dysfunctional family. Well done!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very good book, the life of a Doctor and his familly..God Bless his family...Enjoyed it as it was so locally written ..
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book! Being the same age as the writer and growing up in Rochester Mn, I related to so many things. Our family was going thru simular experience.
thad66 More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It is an engrossing, honest, intimate story of a childhood spent with a family who's father is being consumed by alcohol addiction. I have read stories of similar subject matter. What makes this book such a triumph is that it is written with a unique kindness and sense of humor. Luke Sullivan is obviously a very funny man. I mean like David Sedaris, Larry David funny. Many times while reading this book I found myself laughing out loud, and searching for a friend or family member to read a particular passage to. The stories of the Sullivan boys tearing around this giant house unobstructed by parents or consistent rules were a delight to read. Sullivan captured that ephemeral sense of what it felt like to be a boy. A boy with insecurities and admiration for his older brothers. What also shines in this book is the vivid portrayal of their mother Myra Sullivan. An educated upper middle class women trapped between an abusive husband and a society that offered little help. Sullivan does a wonderful job revealing the patriarchal boundaries suffered by women in the 1960's. In the end this book is a superb tribute to this fascinating woman. Her unending loyalty, and selfless protection of her children is a testament to the power of what it means to be a mother. I finished this book wishing I could meet this woman. Thad Spencer
Nanjo More than 1 year ago
This book is heart-stopping, heart breaking, and achingly funny. It is the story of six brothers and their mother living in an enormous old house doing their best to stay out of their father's way as he descends into the insanity of alcoholism. The coping mechanisms amazed me, the adventures of the boys made the parent in me cringe. I plan to buy this book in hard cover when it comes out so that friends who do not have electronic media can read it, too.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Interesting look into a family's dysfunction, yet the book gives hope to those who may have experienced a similar lifestyle. This should have been a stereotypical family of the 1960's and the mother longed for that. I'm glad the brothers had each other to go through their childhoods with, and that they all found happiness in their ahult lives.