Saturday, July 17, 2010

A Summer of Madness


“On July 5, 1996,” Michael Greenberg starts, “my daughter was struck mad.” No time is wasted on preliminaries, and Hurry Down Sunshine moves swiftly, almost torrentially, from this opening sentence, in tandem with the events that it tells of. The onset of mania is sudden and explosive: Sally, the fifteen-year-old daughter, has been in a heightened state for some weeks, listening to Glenn Gould’s Goldberg Variations on her Walkman, poring over a volume of Shakespeare’s sonnets till the early hours. Greenberg writes:

Flipping open the book at random I find a blinding crisscross of arrows, definitions, circled words. Sonnet 13 looks like a page from the Talmud, the margins crowded with so much commentary the original text is little more than a speck at the center.

Sally has also been writing singular, Sylvia Plath–like poems. Her father surreptitiously glances at these, finds them strange, but it does not occur to him that her mood or activity is in any way pathological. She has had learning difficulties from an early age, but she is now triumphing over these, finding her intellectual powers for the first time. Such exaltation is normal in a highly gifted fifteen-year-old. Or so it seems.

But, on that hot July day, she breaks—haranguing strangers in the street, demanding their attention, shaking them, and then suddenly running full tilt into a stream of traffic, convinced she can bring it to a halt by sheer willpower (with quick reflexes, a friend yanks her out of the way just in time).

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