Robert Kolker, Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family (New York: Doubleday, 2020), 377pp.
From the outside, Don and Mimi Galvin's baby boomer family looked picture perfect. The photo on the book's dust jacket says it all—mom, dad, and their 12 children impeccably dressed and standing ram rod straight in a perfect arc down a spiral staircase. And that was the family's harmonious narrative. Never was heard a discouraging word, especially from the perfectionist mother, for whom self-reflection seemed impossible, and likewise the demanding and distant father. But as the years rolled by, a dark and dreadful reality crashed down upon everyone when six of the ten Galvin boys were diagnosed with schizophrenia. What followed were decades of dysfunction, violence, abuse, endless quests for medical help, and, let it be said, some degree of healing, resilience, and a new understanding of what it means to be family.
Robert Kolker's best selling book was named one of the top ten books of 2020 by numerous outlets (NYT, WSJ, Oprah). His tone and tenor exude compassion, but he never flinches from the hard truths of the Galvin's story. The book is a classic medical case study in "humanity's most perplexing disease" that affects about one out of a hundred people. This includes a history of the science of schizophrenia, and the complex and controversial debates surrounding everything about it—its definition, causes, and cures (cf. nature v. nurture). There are many actors here: family, doctors, researchers, universities, mental institutions (private and public), drug companies, funding agencies, friends (helpful and not), and the Catholic Church to which the family was deeply dedicated. In a classy move at the end of the book, Kolker acknowledges that "this book is a testament to the entire family's generosity, candor, and faith that their story can be a help to others." In the notes on sources, we learn that every living member of the Galvin family participated in hundreds of hours of interviews with Kolker.
The Galvins are not alone. One researcher identified more than a thousand "multiplex families" in which more than one person in the family had schizophrenia. For more on this important theme of mental illness, see my reviews of the books by A.K. Benjamin, Let Me Not Be Mad: My Story of Unraveling Minds (2019), and Kathryn Greene-McCreight, Darkness Is My Only Companion; A Christian Response to Mental Illness (2006); and then the movies I Am Maris (2018), Tarnation (2003), and Love and Mercy (2014).
Dan Clendenin: firstname.lastname@example.org