Publication Date: Sep 09, 2008
List Price US $22.00
List Price US $14.95
Hurry Down Sunshine tells the story of the extraordinary summer when, at the age of fifteen, Michael Greenberg’s daughter was struck mad. It begins with Sally’s 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 most sweltering months. “I feel like I’m traveling and traveling with nowhere to go back to,” Sally says in a burst of lucidity while hurtling away toward some place her father could not dream of or imagine. Hurry Down Sunshine is the chronicle of that journey, and its effect on Sally and those closest to her—her brother and grandmother, her mother and stepmother, and, not least of all, the author himself. Among Greenberg’s unforgettable gallery of characters are an unconventional psychiatrist, an Orthodox Jewish patient, a manic Classics professor, a movie producer, and a landlord with literary dreams. Unsentimental, nuanced, and deeply humane, Hurry Down Sunshine holds the reader in a mesmerizing state of suspension between the mundane and the transcendent.
“The psychotic break of his fifteen-year-old daughter is the grit around which Michael Greenberg forms the pearl that is Hurry Down Sunshine. It is a brilliant, taut, entirely original study of a suffering child and a family and marriage under siege. I know of no other book about madness whose claim to scientific knowledge is so modest and whose artistic achievement is so great.” —Janet Malcolm, author of The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath & Ted Hughes and The Journalist and the Murderer
“One of the most gripping and disturbingly honest books I have ever read. The courage Michael Greenberg shows in narrating the story of his adolescent daughter’s descent into psychosis is matched by his acute understanding of how alone each of us, sane or manic, is in our processing of reality and our attempts to get others to appreciate what seems important to us. This is a remarkable memoir.” —Phillip Lopate, author of Two Marriages and Waterfront: A Journey Around Manhattan
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?