Hurry Down Sunshine


Publication Date: Dec 04, 2018

240 pp

Ebook

Hardcover

List Price US $22.00


This international bestseller is an extraordinary family story and an exceptionally powerful memoir about coping with bipolar disorder, now with a new afterword for the ten-year anniversary edition.

Michael Greenberg recounts in vivid detail the remarkable summer when, at the age of fifteen, his daughter was struck mad. It begins with Sally’s sudden visionary crack-up on the streets of Greenwich Village, and continues, among other places, in the out-of-time world of a Manhattan psychiatric ward during the city’s sweltering summer. It is a tale of a family broken open, then painstakingly, movingly stitched together again.

Greenberg’s unforgettable cast of characters includes an unconventional psychiatrist, an Orthodox Jewish patient, a manic Classics professor, a movie producer, and a landlord with literary aspirations. Unsentimental, nuanced, and deeply humane, Hurry Down Sunshine is essential reading in the literature of affliction with such classics as Girl, Interrupted and An Unquiet Mind.



Excerpt from Hurry Down Sunshine

Sally emerges from her room in a thin hospital gown, snap buttons, no laces or ties. She suddenly looks ageless. The only other time I’ve seen her in a hospital was the night she was born. By that point in our marriage her mother and I were like two people drinking alone in a bar. Not hostile, just miles apart. Yet when Sally appeared, a huge optimism came over us, a physical optimism, primitive and momentarily blind. She was her own truth, complete to herself, so beautifully formed that the jaded maternity nurses marveled at what perfection had just slid into the world. Though she has never set foot in a psychiatric hospital, there is the tacit sense from Sally that she is understood here, she is where she belongs. She acts as if a great burden has been lifted from her. At the same time she is more elevated than ever: feral, glitter-eyed. In 1855 a friend of Robert Schumann observed him at the piano in an asylum near Bonn: “like a machine whose springs are broken, but which still tries to work, jerking convulsively.” Sally appears to be heading toward this maimed point of perpetual motion. Her sole concern is to get her pen back, which has been confiscated with most of her other belongings–belt, matches, shoelaces, keys, anything with glass, and her comb with half its teeth snapped off by her potent hair. She initiates an agitated negotiation with the nurses, which immediately threatens to boil over into a serious scene. The nurses confer like referees after a disputed call. Then they grant her a felt-tip marker and march her back to her room.


“Michael Greenberg’s excellently written memoir echoes the genre’s most poignant predecessors.… Greenberg’s wry, lighting-bolt prose and unsentimental portrayal of his family’s ordeal make for a brilliant, engrossing sketch of mental illness and its terrifying, destructive fallout.” —Suzanne Niemoth, Flavorpill

“In its detail, depth, richness, and sheer intelligence, Hurry Down Sunshine will be recognized as a classic of its kind….Lucid, realistic, compassionate, illuminating, Hurry Down Sunshine may provide a sort of guide for those who have to negotiate the dark regions of the soul—a guide, too, for their families and friends, for all those who want to understand what their loved ones are going through.” —Oliver Sacks, New York Review of Books

“[an]… extraordinary memoir…” —Lev Grossman, Time

“The prose is so fluid that it transports us into the author’s head, making his shock, fear, and love our own.” —Library Journal

“[Hurry Down Sunshine is]… almost impossible to put down.” —St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“Deeply affecting and poetically rendered…” —Shelf Awareness

Triumphant. . . . Greenberg renders the details of his daughter’s breakdown with lyrical precision.” —The Washington Post


1. Why does the author doubt Sally’s psychosis? How does each family member deal with the crisis differently, and what do their reactions tell you about them?

2. The author refers to the illness of James Joyce’s daughter and how Joyce copes with Lucia’s madness. Discuss the differences and similarities between Greenberg’s and Joyce’s reactions to their daughters’ illnesses.

3. Consider the author’s grief over Sally’s illness in relation to his mother’s guilt over her troubled son, Steven. In what ways are parental guilt intensified in times of crisis?

4. Before her psychotic episode, Sally refuses to believe Pat’s devotion to her is sincere. How does their relationship change as Sally battles to overcome the psychosis? How does Pat’s revelation about her close friend after the fight with Michael shed light on her devotion to Sally as a mother?

5. How does the Hasidic family respond to Noah’s psychosis? How was it different from Sally’s family? Were there any similarities? Why do you think Noah and Sally were drawn to each other?

6. Throughout the story, the author interjects scenes that reflect current events happening in the world. How does Greenberg use these events to give the reader a better understanding of what he is going through?

7. Greenberg’s mother arrives at the hospital dressed in a new outfit each day. Similarly, when Greenberg returns to his studio to write for the first time since Sally has come home, he removes all references to chaos and crisis from his book. Greenberg writes, “the harder the blow, the more polish is required”. Do you think a mutual need to restore order is an effort to fix Sally or simply a defense mechanism?

8. When Greenberg takes a dose of Sally’s medication to try and see the world as she does, the reader also gets a glimpse of that world. What is your reaction? Does it change Greenberg’s perception of her illness? How does Greenberg’s medicated state influence his meeting with Jean-Paul?

9. How is the narrator’s relationship with his brother, Steven, both a responsibility he enjoys as well as a source of burden for him? Cite examples.

10. Greenberg describes infant Sally, as distinctly fiery: “a thrasher, a gripper, a grasper, a yanker of fingers and ears”. In what ways does Sally’s madness inform the way the author reflects on her infancy and childhood?

11. Compare Sally’s use of the name “Father” to Greenberg’s own description of himself as her “touchstone of sanity”. How does this change after his fight with Pat?

12. In the midst of a crisis, families either pull together or are torn apart. How did Sally’s illness change the dynamics between family members?

13. How is psychosis understood and misunderstood in society, and how has this changed over time? If Steven were raised in Sally’s generation, do you think he would have turned out differently?

14. Do you feel that Greenberg and Pat and Robin did a good job in caring for Sally during her time of crisis? Would you have responded differently?

15. Would you describe the relationship between Sally’s biological mother Robin and her stepmother Pat as tense? Harmonious? What do you think of the position of a stepmother in such a situation?

16. Do you think Dr. Lensing was an effective therapist to Sally?

17. James Joyce called psychosis “the most elusive disease known to man and unknown to medicine.” Do you think metal illness is a medical disease or an extreme aspect of who we are as human beings?

18. Throughout Hurry Down Sunshine we see glimpses of Sally’s unusual verbal brilliance. Do you think these flashes of brilliance are symptoms of Sally’s psychosis or an expression of who she really is? Do you think it is possible to separate Sally’s behavior while psychotic from her personality and way of being when she is not psychotic or do they seem to be aspects of a single person?