Vince Granata, Everything is Fine: A Memoir (New York: Atria, 2021), 297pp.
Vince Granata begins his book with two memories. When he was four, and his parents brought home triplets from the hospital, he scrawled their names on the driveway with chalk — Chris, Lizzie, and Tim, and exclaimed to his father, "this is the best day of my life!" That one-liner lived on as a "foundation myth" for what seemed like an idyllic family. Then, his second memory: "I was twenty-seven when Tim killed our mother" due to the raging demons of schizophrenia that had "flooded him with madness."
For many years Granata understandably tried to avoid the family fallout of this unimaginable trauma, but in his case that only led to heavy drinking. Writing this memoir and remembering this story almost killed him, he says, but it also "allowed me to live again." His account is unsparing in its graphic detail, based upon his deep dive into medical evaluations, police reports, forensic photographs of the crime scene, court documents from Tim's trial, journals, emails, research into the history of schizophrenia, and even old text messages on his mother's phone.
There are many types of mental illnesses and presentations of schizophrenia, and Granata is careful not to lump them all together with violent outcomes. Tim's schizophrenia was not only extremely serious, it went untreated for a long time. His diagnosis was also complicated by the controversial field of psychiatry that has ping ponged between a Freudian model of mental illness that requires talk therapy and a medical model that searches for biological mechanisms and that leads to heavy medications. Our legal system also struggles with deeply complicated questions surrounding mental illness like involuntary treatments, insanity pleas, and the like.
Tim's schizophrenia included a terrifying range of symptoms — auditory and visual hallucinations, paranoia, disorganized thought and speech, suicidal ideation, severe depression, and bi-polar swings. How anyone begins life as an innocent child and descends into such an insidious madness is a mystery. Of the many things that people said trying to be helpful to the Granatas, one wise person suggested that it would be Granata's "life work" to deal with the fallout. This memoir is his brave and brutally honest effort to "make sense of the senseless."
For more on schizophrenia, see my reviews of the books by Anne Harrington, Mind Fixers: Psychiatry's Troubled Search for the Biology of Mental Illness (2019); Robert Kolker, Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family (2020), a story about a family in which six of the twelve children were diagnosed with schizophrenia; A.K. Benjamin, Let Me Not Be Mad: My Story of Unraveling Minds (2019); Kathryn Greene-McCreight, Darkness Is My Only Companion; A Christian Response to Mental Illness (2006); the many books by the neurologist Oliver Sacks; and then the movies I Am Maris (2018), Tarnation (2003), and Love and Mercy (2014).
Dan Clendenin: email@example.com