Hurry Down Sunshine
by Michael Greenberg
(Other Press, $22)
“On July 5, 1996, my daughter was struck mad,” writes author Michael Greenberg. For much of the summer, 15-year-old Sally had been poring over Shakespeare’s sonnets late into the night, while Bach’s Goldberg Variations played in an endless loop on her headphones. Suddenly she was speaking in near gibberish. She was grabbing and shaking strangers on the street near her family’s New York City apartment. She was dashing without warning into onrushing traffic. In her mania, Sally had become at once hyper-charged and frighteningly remote, Greenberg writes: “Suddenly every point of connection between us had vanished.” A therapist urged the family to bring Sally to an emergency room immediately.
In its “richness and sheer intelligence,” Hurry Down Sunshine “will be recognized as a classic of is kind,” said Oliver Sacks in The New York Review of Books. Though memoirs about manic-depressive illnesses have been published before, Greenberg creates something new by sharing the perspective of a loving and bewildered observer. He likens witnessing Sally’s manic episode to “being in the presence of a rare force of nature,” one as frightening and “astounding” as a flood. Even so, he succeeds in helping us see mania through Sally’s eyes. Like many before her, she must learn not to “fall in love with” her psychosis, not to crave a return of the madness that marks her as unique. By highlighting the precariousness of her situation, her father reminds us “what a narrow ridge of normality” the rest of us inhabit.
Greenberg doesn’t write dialogue well, said Yona Zeldis McDonough in Bookforum. His “otherwise powerful tale” loses steam whenever he tries to carry the action with long stretches of remembered conversation. It’s disappointing, too, that the book’s “least vivid” character is Sally herself, said Melanie Thernstrom in The Wall Street Journal. While we learn in a postscript that she has suffered two more manic attacks in the past dozen years, we never learn much about who she was before the summer that her illness first emerged. Maybe that’s fitting, though. One hallmark of psychosis is the loss of a sense of self, a disjunction that can be as frustrating to an intimate as it is to the sufferer.