This is an in-depth, comprehensive look at schizophrenia and its impact on one American family.
The Galvins were a large family with 10 sons and 2 daughters. Over the years, 6 of the boys would develop schizophrenia. The children were born between 1945 and 1965, and during these years the family was sought after by researchers as potentially holding the key to the mysteries of genetics and mental illness. Why were so many children from one family developing schizophrenia? And alternately, why weren’t the others?
The book is well crafted, with chapters alternating between stories about each family member and the progress of researchers and medical experts over the years. It’s heartbreaking to see the boys, once young and healthy, become more and more disconnected from reality as they grew into young men. Schizophrenia is often onset in young adulthood, and the siblings were constantly worried about who may be the next to be impacted.
The Galvins were a troubled family, dealing with sexual abuse among siblings, and even homicide. Mimi, the matriarch, struggled with maintaining the facade of a perfect household while raising her deeply troubled children in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Little was known about schizophrenia at this time, and the pressure to appear perfect must not have been easy. Don, the patriarch, was discovered to suffer from depression, leaving Mimi to wonder if mental illness must have come from his lineage. The story often returns to the notion that the ill children demanded all of Mimi and Don’s attention, leaving little of themselves for their other children.
Kokler pieced together a fascinating, albeit extremely sad, portrait of the Galvin family. He was allowed access into their lives, and spent years interviewing and learning from the survived members of the family. The greatest impression this book left me with is that schizophrenia is highly complex. It impacts everyone very differently, and to varying degrees. While some of the sons with schizophrenia were violent, angry, and predatory, others were gentle even during psychosis. People with schizophrenia are no different than those without: some are good and some are bad.