"The Edge of Every Day," by Marin Sardy, (Pantheon: New York), $25.95 hardback.
What do you think of when you hear about mental illness? Marin Sardy, noted essayist, offers an extremely important and personal memoir.
Her magnificent collection of reflections in "The Edge of Every Day: Sketches of Schizophenia" is at once poignant, incredibly well researched in the annals of science, history, and culture, and covers a theme seldom addressed. Her prism to do so is personal. We learn that her life is affected in so many ways by her mother's schizophrenia and a brother's similar ailments. It ran in the family.
Why should we, in this our 21st century, still deal with this disease as if it were some sort of tragic, bizarre side show, if we speak of it at all? And that is the problem, writ large, in this country. We still act as if someone suffering from schizophrenia is not one of us, a fellow human who deserves care and love, and above all treatment.
Sardy is aware that there are those who seek to know, as if in some sort of carnival freak show, about the strange and outlandish behaviors manifested by the sufferers. This book does not remark, beyond the necessary, on these actions. In her life there was "Gram Julia," who feared Japanese spies with radios in her home in Chicago. Or Julia's son whose odd fears would seem to dissolve into general paranoia.
Throughout all these revelations, however, Sardy is careful to show that now, neuroscience has revealed there is no one title for such illness. Manic depression was at one time a "catch all" phrase, and now it is known that there are a host of sub categories of mental health illnesses. We learn that the brain is so complicated that to understand even a small part of it can be a monumental undertaking.
We discover that Sardy's story doesn't end happily. Her brother, living homeless, seen occasionally by friends and given a buck or two, dies as a consequence of his illness. Sardy tells us to care. For the individual, there are organizations to help mental illness. On a larger level, make the country take responsibility for this, reopen mental health clinics. Don't send people with this type illness to jail, just because it is a place to warehouse them. Help them.
Sardy's book is actually many essays on this common theme. They are in some cases linear chapters, in others, not. Each tells an aspect of a lifetime dealing with this in her family, her immediate family, and how it affected her life and those around her. Care. This is a magnificent book. It whispers, "Do something to help the mentally ill."