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Unholy Ghost: Writers on Depression

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Home » Books » Health & Wellbeing » Self Help » Depression

Unholy Ghost

Writers on Depression

By Nell Casey

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Format: Paperback, 320 pages
Published In: United States, 01 January 2002
Unholy Ghost is a unique collection of essays about depression that, in the spirit of William Styron's Darkness Visible, finds vivid expression for an elusive illness suffered by more than one in five Americans today. Unlike any other memoir of depression, however, Unholy Ghost includes many voices and depicts the most complete portrait of the illness. Lauren Slater eloquently describes her own perilous experience as a pregnant woman on antidepressant medication. Susanna Kaysen, writing for the first time about depression since Girl, Interrupted, criticizes herself and others for making too much of the illness. Larry McMurtry recounts the despair that descended after his quadruple bypass surgery. Meri Danquah describes the challenges of racism and depression. Ann Beattie sees melancholy as a consequence of her writing life. And Donald Hall lovingly remembers the "moody seesaw" of his relationship with his wife, Jane Kenyon.

The collection also includes an illuminating series of companion pieces. Russell Banks's and Chase Twichell's essays represent husbandand-wife perspectives on depression; Rose Styron's contribution about her husband's struggle with melancholy is paired with an excerpt from William Styron's Darkness Visible; and the book's editor, Nell Casey, juxtaposes her own essay about seeing her sister through her depression with Maud Casey's account of this experience. These companion pieces portray the complicated bond -- a constant grasp for mutual understandingforged by depressives and their family members.

With an introduction by Kay Redfield Jamison, Unholy Ghost allows the bewildering experience of depression to be adequately and beautifully rendered. The twenty-two stories that make up this book will offer solace and enlightenment to all readers.

Reviews

The recipient of a Carter Center fellowship for mental health journalism, Casey has compiled a widely varied collection in which authors reckon with their personal experience of depression the "unholy ghost" to which poet Jane Kenyon famously referred. Well-known writers such as Donald Hall and Ann Beattie rub shoulders with talented newcomers like Maud Casey and Joshua Wolf Shenk in pieces that alternate between startling eloquence and the kind of vague, self-indulgent writing that turns some readers away from memoirs. Lee Stringer concludes her contribution with the revelation that "perhaps what we call depression isn't really a disorder at all, but an alarm of sorts, alerting us that something is undoubtedly wrong," while Lesley Dormen resorts to cliches ("My heart pumped dread"). Among the most engaging essays are Rose Styron's response to husband William Styron's Darkness Visible, in which she writes about comic moments that her husband, in the throes of depression, was too blue to appreciate. Responding to spouse Chase Twichell's essay, novelist Russell Banks writes that he has "learned to feel for my wife and to avoid feeling with her." As a whole, the collection is a valuable contribution to the field of depression studies, and will lend some insight and cheer to those struggling with this little-understood condition. (Mar.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

This anthology will never earn a spot in library "Fast Fun Reads" displays, but given the number of people who suffer from depression and those who live with or love them, it probably deserves a place on most library shelves. Editor Casey has pulled together 22 contemporary pieces, some previously published, from different voices and perspectives, all trying to understand this devastating but elusive illness. The names you would expect are here: William Styron, Jane Kenyon, Susannah Kaysen, and Larry McMurtry, among others, with an introduction by Kay Redfield Jamison. Of particular interest are the companion pieces: Donald Hall's take on his wife, Jane Kenyon; Rose Styron on her husband; Russell Banks on his wife, Chase Twitchell; and editor Casey on her sister Maud. The dual perspective of experienced and witnessed depression is enlightening and at times frightening. Perhaps this volume should come with a warning label, for surely reading about depression can be depressing. The best of these pieces, though, like Kenyon's poems and William Styron's excerpt, overcome that pitfall with the power of their art. Recommended for public libraries. Mary Paumier Jones, Westminster P.L., CO Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

EAN: 9780060007829
ISBN: 0060007826
Publisher: William Morrow & Company
Dimensions: 13.46 x 20.07 x 2.03 centimetres (0.23 kg)
Age Range: 15+ years
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