No triumphs of modern psychiatry on display here, but rather a sympathetic portrait of seriously ill patients that could...

FALLING INTO THE FIRE

A PSYCHIATRIST'S ENCOUNTERS WITH THE MIND IN CRISIS

In her residency and now as a professor (Psychiatry and Human Behavior/Warren Alpert Medical School, Brown Univ.) and a hospital inpatient psychiatrist, Montross (Body of Work: Meditations on Mortality from the Human Anatomy Lab, 2007) describes her encounters with patients in crisis, first admitted to emergency rooms and then referred for hospital stays.

The cases are bizarre: a woman repeatedly admitted for swallowing objects—light bulbs, pens, nails; a man who keeps tearing at his skin and hair, spending thousands on treatments to correct his “ugliness”; a woman so able to feign an epileptic seizure that staff feared she might die from status epilepticus; a mother terrified she would kill her infant, so she “hid all the knives.” Montross writes of these encounters with a dramatic flair, ever empathetic but unsparing of occasional negative feelings, fears and frustrations. Diagnosis is not always easy. Even when a patient’s back story reveals plausible causes of illness, there is little therapy can do if the patient is unwilling, given the limitations of insurance and the need to discharge patients once “stabilized.” Oddly, patients afflicted with extreme forms of body dissatisfaction—who want a limb amputated, for example—are “cured” if the surgery takes place. In the absence of cures, Montross offers solace—just being there with a patient. She provides background and current thinking on the particular cases she describes, discusses the legal issues of involuntary treatment and inveighs against academics who see mental illness as one side of creative genius. As an antidote to her daily coping with extreme behaviors, Montross writes serenely of a home life with her family.

No triumphs of modern psychiatry on display here, but rather a sympathetic portrait of seriously ill patients that could guide future practitioners on the art of helping, if not always healing, the sick.

Pub Date: Aug. 5, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-59420-393-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: April 8, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2013

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A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

INTO THE WILD

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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A potent depiction of grief, but also a book lacking the originality and acerbic prose that distinguished Didion’s earlier...

  • National Book Critics Circle Finalist

  • National Book Award Winner

  • Pulitzer Prize Finalist

THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING

A moving record of Didion’s effort to survive the death of her husband and the near-fatal illness of her only daughter.

In late December 2003, Didion (Where I Was From, 2003, etc.) saw her daughter, Quintana Roo Dunne, hospitalized with a severe case of pneumonia, the lingering effects of which would threaten the young woman’s life for several months to come. As her daughter struggled in a New York ICU, Didion’s husband, John Gregory Dunne, suffered a massive heart attack and died on the night of December 30, 2003. For 40 years, Didion and Dunne shared their lives and work in a marriage of remarkable intimacy and endurance. In the wake of Dunne’s death, Didion found herself unable to accept her loss. By “magical thinking,” Didion refers to the ruses of self-deception through which the bereaved seek to shield themselves from grief—being unwilling, for example, to donate a dead husband’s clothes because of the tacit awareness that it would mean acknowledging his final departure. As a poignant and ultimately doomed effort to deny reality through fiction, that magical thinking has much in common with the delusions Didion has chronicled in her several previous collections of essays. But perhaps because it is a work of such intense personal emotion, this memoir lacks the mordant bite of her earlier work. In the classics Slouching Toward Bethlehem (1968) and The White Album (1979), Didion linked her personal anxieties to her withering dissection of a misguided culture prey to its own self-gratifying fantasies. This latest work concentrates almost entirely on the author’s personal suffering and confusion—even her husband and daughter make but fleeting appearances—without connecting them to the larger public delusions that have been her special terrain.

A potent depiction of grief, but also a book lacking the originality and acerbic prose that distinguished Didion’s earlier writing.

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 2005

ISBN: 1-4000-4314-X

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2005

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