Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Half in Love

A copy of the movie The Hours from Netflix sits on top of my dresser, where it has been for at least a month, and I may well send it back, unwatched. I saw the movie several years ago, and ordered it with the intent to watch it again, because even though I recall that it was good, I don't remember many of the details of the film. However, I do remember that it depicts the 1941 suicide by drowning of Virginia Woolf, played by Nicole Kidman, and now I'm not sure that I want to watch the movie again, because it might be too upsetting.

I kind of felt the same way about reading Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide by writer Linda Gray Sexton. I was a bit reluctant to read a memoir about suicide, because I thought it might depress me (albeit temporarily), make me too somber. The subject matter is something I do not like to think about. But I very quickly realized that the subtitle of the book contains a vital, hopeful clue; I knew the book would be about suicide, but also about surviving the legacy of suicide. I cast my doubts aside and jumped right into this book, hoping to be enlightened, and maybe even inspired. Once I started reading this book, the clear prose drew me in swiftly, and although at times it was difficult to read about the author's misery, and I wished the story were not true, I finished the book in just a few sittings.

Half in Love is a very candid and affecting memoir, written by the daughter of Pulitzer Prize winning poet, Anne Sexton. Growing up, Linda feared that her gifted but mentally ill mother would kill herself. She was aware of her mother’s numerous suicide attempts, which were followed by hospital stays, and she was filled with nearly constant dread. Linda and her family suffered along with Anne, always worrying that she would kill herself.

"When my mother took an overdose, Death came into the room and stood at the head of her bed. When my father, or my Nana, or her best friend, took her to the hospital, Death waited on the threshold and watched for his opportunity. Sometimes Death lived at our house, slithering between the big bottles of her sleeping pills and tranquilizers, twining around the packs of cigarettes and bottles of booze. Death was the itinerant salesman, always knocking on our green front door. My mother never failed to let him in."
~Half in Love, Linda Gray Sexton

While Linda was 21 and studying at Harvard, her mother succeeded in taking her own life. After that horrific ordeal, Linda and her sister, Joy, vowed to never attempt suicide, and Linda later promises her own children that she will never be like her mother in that regard. Very sadly, though, the legacy of suicide and depression gradually becomes too strong for Linda, and she does eventually attempt suicide a few times, before finally getting the help that she needs.

Many aspects of this book are quite remarkable! The honesty of Linda's story is nothing short of incredible. I admire this honesty, although it was difficult for me to read parts of the book. It took great courage on Linda's part to reveal so much about herself and what she went through. She describes in agonizing detail her first attempt at suicide in the bathtub, and also writes about how cutting her skin with sharp objects initially helped alleviate the pain she felt inside. Another thing that struck me was her determination to beat the deep, recurring depression that made her suicidal and kept her bedridden and paralyzed. She strived to be a good wife and mother, and took medication for her depression and mood disorders. Many people mistakenly think that you can "tough out" depression, which is a real and serious illness that is often difficult to treat, and sometimes fatal. As the book points out, a suicide attempt isn't a selfish act, but is rather a response to tremendous, relentless pain; if death is seen as the only way out, then life must be absolutely unbearable.

I was quite relieved that she was able to find the support and nurturing that were absolutely essential to her survival, after being abandoned by several prominent people in her life. After her mother's death, she became friends with Rachael, who was older and understanding, a new, healthier version of a mother for Linda. After her first marriage ended, Linda was devastated, but some years later she meets Brad, who turns out to be a wonderful, accepting mate. Eventually Linda finds a marvelous doctor, Barbara, who not only listens and provides guidance and insight (she suggests the idea of the legacy), but who also nurtures her to an extent. Her children, Gabe and Nathaniel, now adults, are lovingly supportive of her. They knew that Linda had always tried to do her best as a mother, and that she loved them, but that at times she was overpowered by this forceful legacy. Their understanding of their mother brought tears to my eyes.

Linda survives, writes her powerful and personal story, and provides hope and inspiration to individuals and families suffering from the affects of depression and the dark shadow of suicide. I hope it doesn't spoil the book for anyone when I say that this book has a happy ending. Or, in Linda's case, a happy, new beginning.

Special thanks to Lisa from TLC for sending me a copy of this book. For more reviews of this book, please visit the other stops on TLC's Half in Love book tour.


  1. I read another review on this today, I have added to my Wishlist for when I am in the right mood. It does sound like a well written honest memoir.

  2. You are right that this is a very hard subject to read about but some families face the reality of suicide and it is devastating and undermining to the survivors. I may recommend this book to a good friend -- after I've read it. Thank you for this review Suko :-)

  3. A really poignant and thoughtful review. The book sounds a fascinating contrast to one I brought home the other day, Janet Malcolm's The Silent Woman: Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, which is effectively a polemic abut how hard it is to understand, let alone write an accurate biographical account of a husband, a wife and a suicide from the outside. But here, it is the family's story.

  4. Thank you for the sensitive review. I like most memoirs, but this one could be tough.

  5. Great review! It sounds like this would be an excellent book to help those who have friends or family members who have issues with depression.

  6. This sounds like a very powerful book. I can see why it would be difficult to read - I'm glad to see it has a happy ending, though. Thanks for your thoughtful review.

  7. Like you, I tend to shy away from books that deal with difficult subjects. It sounds like this was a very powerful book, and although it dealt with a very difficult subject, it's nice to hear that the ending was a happy one. Great review, Suko. Your thoughts on this book were really enlightening to read.

  8. Not too sure this is one for me. Thanks for such a sensitive review though.

  9. This is one of my favorite books from this year because its not just about the depression, but the surviving of it and the misconceptions about the disease. I really loved your review.

  10. How do you cope with losing a parent who killed themselves. It doesn't bear thinking about. I am intrigued by this book, though I wonder if it might be too emotional for me to read. Fantastic review though.

  11. Wow, Suko, you sure can write a heck of a review!! This one sounds so powerful. Thank you for being on the tour.

  12. Excellent review! I enjoyed reading it.

  13. I appreciate each and every comment, and welcome more.

  14. Awesome review!..Virginia woolf has been someone I've been fascinated with,but her books have always disturbed me.I am trying to stay away from intense books these days,but the element of hope makes me want to grab this one.

  15. Excellent review. Hoping over from the other tour stops.

  16. I've heard a lot of good things about this memoir. When I was in college, one of my professors said she had been a close friend of Anne Sexton and her suicide hit her hard. That's what first made me interested in her poetry. I'll have to keep this book in mind. Thanks for the review!

  17. This is not my kind of reading, it hits to close to home for me.

    You did a nice review of the book. I'm glad things worked out well for the author.

  18. This sounds like an excellent book, though not what I usually read. Maybe someday when I want to step outside my comfort zone I'll pick this one up.

  19. Great book-it would take me out of my normal reading zone but once and while that is good for me-excellent review as always

  20. Hey Suko,
    Thank you for the lovely visit. I enjoyed your review and find myself wanting to purchase and read. Happy ending for the author is always good.
    See ya,
    Readaholics Anonymous

  21. Greetings, how are you?
    Write a free verse 4 Poets Rally, enjoy poetic friends, you are invited!

    Hope to see you in,

    Love your poetry talent and looking forward to a profound experience with your input.


  22. Great review Susan for a very difficult topic.

  23. Great review Suko. I found this one to be moving as well. The authors candidness was remarkable.

  24. I have to admit, The Hours is hands-down my favorite movie ever and I've see it 100+ times. Back when I was pregnant with my third child, I watched it literally every day in the last trimester, sometimes twice a day. I was really depressed at the time (pregnancy hormones and all) and for some odd reason, it actually helped to share my depression with the women in the movie.

  25. Suko, thank you for this tender and thoughtful review. I usually take caution before I read any book review, except one that you have written. I will always read your reviews as you are informative and honest, qualities I find refreshing.

    Thank you again,

  26. Amanda, I haven't seen any movie 100+ times. Wow!

    Thank you all very much for the comments. Although I don't respond to each individually, I do appreciate them.

  27. The legacy of suicide truly extends so deeply, and it is so hard to even imagine the pain it brings. It sounds like this is a good resource book.

    Thanks for the well wishes two weeks ago. I really appreciate it.


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