The Divining Wand

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Linda Gray Sexton and
Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide

January 24, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books


Imagine being the daughter of America’s Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Anne Sexton. The innate writing talent, the lesson skills taught, (see Passing It Along), and the absolute love of words shared. Now, on the other hand, consider growing up as Linda Gray Sexton (Searching for Mercy Street: My Journey Back to My Mother, Anne Sexton, Other works in Bibliography) and being raised by this publicly revered mother who suffered from severe depression, alcoholism, and suicide attempts that required stays in mental institutions. These far too many absences that forced being shifted to live with grandmothers and other relatives, while causing you to wonder — on your mother’s return home — whether she would keep her promise and not leave again.

When Linda Gray Sexton was barely twenty-one, her mother successfully committed suicide and was — at least — physically gone forever. However, in her just released memoir Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide, the author takes readers on her own brutal journey of depression, pain, and overwhelming sense of loss that led her to three suicide attempts. Like her mother, Linda promised her children she would never leave them yet the bond to be with her mother again always proved (not quite) stronger.

From the book’s inside jacket flap:

After the agony of witnessing her mother’s multiple—and ultimately successful—suicide attempts, Linda Gray Sexton, daughter of the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Anne Sexton, struggles with an engulfing undertow of depression. Here, with powerful, unsparing prose, Sexton conveys her urgent need to escape the legacy of suicide that consumed her family—a topic rarely explored, even today, in such poignant depth.

Linda Gray Sexton tried multiple times to kill herself—even though as a daughter, sister, wife, and most importantly, a mother, she knew the pain her act would cause. But unlike her mother’s story, Linda’s is ultimately one of triumph. Through the help of family, therapy, and medicine, she confronts deep-seated issues and curbs the haunting cycle of suicide she once seemed destined to inherit.

Also you may read an Excerpt of Half in Love.

According to the author, the title “Half in Love” is taken from the Keat’s epigraph for the memoir which reads: “I have been half in love with easeful death, called him soft names in many a mused rhyme…” And, in relating this to her own experiences, Linda says “…it refers to being half in love with death, and then coming to be fully in love with life.”

In fact as she answered the question, The best age for you? in an interview from The Great Women Series, Linda said: “My fifties. I have come into my own and defeated my depression. I am writing again, conversing with other writers again. I have reclaimed my life.”

Now living with joy rather than pain, wouldn’t one wonder why the author chose to write about her past? Well, in the blog post — Why Write Memoir? — she addresses just that:

“It’s a difficult question. How do you protect the ones you love and still write about a topic you believe needs to be made public and to be discussed?

“In the United States today, someone kills him or herself every seventeen minutes, a million commit suicide worldwide annually, and suicide outranks homicide two to one. You could say that if you are depressed, your own hand is more dangerous than a gun.”

Startling and horrifying statistics, aren’t they? And yet they create the reason to read this book.

As Erica Jong praised: “A vivid and daring exploration of survival from the author of Searching for Mercy Street, Linda Sexton’s beautiful book is a cry for health and sanity.”

Although the subject matter of Linda’s writing is not an easy read, it is fascinating as well as more important than ever. Early in the memoir she notes that during the 50’s, 60’s, and beginning of the 70’s — when her mother struggled with mental illness and lost the battle — it was a disease difficult to diagnose, treat, and medicate properly. Support groups were non-existent and families either tried to ignore or hide a loved one’s severe psychological problem.

However that was then and this is now so The Divining Wand asked why she thought modern medical and therapy strides aren’t making a difference in saving someone from committing suicide every seventeen minutes?

Linda Gray Sexton said: “I think there is still a stigma about mental illness and suicide that makes people reluctant to talk about it. I am getting scads of mail since the book was published from those who feel that someone has at last spoken up for them. I do think that there are strides being made medically in terms of psychoactive drugs, but it takes a long time for these things to penetrate the general population. Who knows what the statistics were a decade ago? And those statistics were undoubtedly colored by the fact that people were reluctant to let others know that their loved ones had died by their own hand. Even today, how many times do you read an obituary that seems extremely vague about the cause of death? We just have to keep plugging away at it, talking about it openly and continuing to support those who live with us, or to whom we are connected, to take their meds and see their psychiatrists. Don’t let depressed people fade out of your life.”

Hopefully the author’s brave and intensely compelling telling of Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide will offer hope and help to others facing a similar situation. For those fortunate enough not having to deal firsthand with mental illness, may it give a better understanding and willingness for support. And to those readers who simply desire a truly brilliant book written — without pity — by a gifted author whose mind conquered all, this memoir is for you!

[On a personal note, I encourage you to take time to visit Linda Gray Sexton's website. It's enchanting, even if you only stop to look inside the writing cottage you'll learn where and how this writer writes.]

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of Linda Gray Sexton’s Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 7:00 p.m. EST with the winners to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to see if you’re a winner.

Kate Ledger and Remedies

August 23, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books


From the front cover

“Remedies is an immediately gripping, expertly woven tale of pain and healing.
Ledger is a brilliant writer; the book is dazzling, but more importantly, it is moving.”
- Elin Hilderbrand, New York Times bestselling author of Barefoot

What Kate Ledger has elegantly and eloquently written in her debut novel, Remedies, is a “witty,” “complex,” “humane,” and “intense” story of a marriage/family in crisis. And those are a few reasons why Remedies garnered:

*A Starred Review from Publishhers Weekly
*Being named an Indie Next List Notable Book for August 2010
*Selection as an Ingram Premier Pick recommendation to libraries across the country.

Although more praise can be found on the author’s Press page, a most telling description comes from the novel’s Facebook page where a reader commented on the paperback’s cover: “I love the knot in her hair . . . so symbolic of the character and the story.”

Yes the novel can be rendered almost that simply as long as the “knots” also describe the husband and teenage daughter. For this is a character-driven storyline. Its idea came from Kate’s interest in a doctor who would believe he’s come up with a treatment to relieve, eradicate physical pain from his patients and she explained his character — and his wife’s character — development in Guest Kate Ledger on REMEDIES: A Novel/The Journey of Writing.

And from those characters came this Synopsis:

Simon and Emily Bear look like a couple that has it all. Simon is a respected doctor. His wife, Emily, shines as a partner in a premier public relations firm. But their marriage is scarred by hidden wounds. Even as Simon tends his patients’ ills, and Emily spins away her clients’ mistakes, they can’t seem to do the same for themselves or their relationship.

Simon becomes convinced he’s discovered a cure for chronic pain, a finding that could become a medical breakthrough, yet he is oblivious to the pain that he causes at home. Emily, struggling to move beyond the devastating loss she and Simon suffered fifteen years earlier, realizes she hasn’t felt anything for a long time–that is, until a lover from her past resurfaces and forces her to examine her marriage anew.

In a debut novel on par with today’s top women writers, Remedies explores the complicated facets of pain, in the nerves of the body and the longings of the heart. Depicting modern-day marriage with a razor-sharp eye, Remedies is about what it takes, as an individual and as a couple, to recover from profound loss.

That profound loss was the death of their six-week old infant son and, once Kate identified and addressed this tragedy, her story focused on the crumbling of a marriage. As she says:

“I found the Bear’s marriage exquisitely complex. As I wrote their interactions, I thought a lot about the ways that people communicate, particularly when they don’t address a real problem: The core issue remains present in every interaction. Simon and Emily aren’t simply two people who can’t talk to each other or who’ve moved apart from one another. In fact, they’re constantly straining to have the terrible conversation they’ve never been able to have. Their terrors are simmering under the surface. Simon can’t help but provoke Emily in ways he knows will frustrate her, hoping that they’ll wind up in a confrontation. (He has grandiose plans to surprise her with winemaking in the basement, for instance, a plan that will surely annoy her.) He must know on some level, that in one of those confrontations, she might blame him in the way he’s most afraid of being blamed. Emily retreats from his antagonistic actions, accepting his signs of outward kindness, as she holds onto the story she’s believed all along: Simon isn’t responsible for their loss since every one of the doctors missed the signs that their son was desperately sick. But, of course, as in all relationships, what’s under the surface always eventually emerges.”

Ironically both Simon and Emily professionally deal with helping patients/clients handle physical pain and successfully communicate. In fact Simon enjoys introducing themselves to others as “the doctor and the spin doctor,” yet — in truth — their skills appear to be left at the office.

Still losing a child is devastating and too many couples who experience such grief, guilt, and emptiness do divorce. They simply can’t forget and find a way back to “normal” because their family life isn’t “normal” any longer. The fortunate ones find strength in each other and from family, friends, religion, and counseling. However Simon and Emily had none of these for support and their individual backgrounds allow this to ring true. Why? Because Kate Ledger created her characters with the perfect flaws that would prevent them from asking for help.

These are fascinating characters, outwardly strong while internally too weak to face and then try to find a remedy for fifteen years of pain. But since — according to the author — “the book is very much about the fear of how people will receive you” — it’s only natural that they would create a facade rather than display their true feelings. As a result, neither Simon or Emily are likable yet they are understandable. In fact if Remedies was a theatrical movie it would most likely win the Oscar for “Best Picture of the Year” for the realistic and exquisite depiction of a lost couple.

As a book it is lyrically gorgeous, created with so much care that the reader doesn’t need actors to make the storyline come alive. Kate’s words do that, aiming directly to the heart. And although the novel focuses on sorrow and pain, the author feels: “It’s a hopeful book. The great journey of the novel is for each of these individuals to come to terms with the past—acknowledge it, examine it, maybe even cry about it— in order to set sights on building a new future.”

Remedies, filled with the potential for insightful discussions, would be an excellent book club selection. If you’d like Kate to visit your book group by speakerphone or Skype, please email kate@kateledger.com. Or take pleasure in this debut by reading and reveling in it on your own!

Book Giveaway: This week Kate Ledger has graciously offered two “signed” copies of Remedies to the winners of a random drawing from comments left on this specific post. A comment left on any other post during the week will not be eligible. The deadline for this contest is Wednesday, August 25, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EDT and the winners will be announced here in Thursday’s post. IF you do enter, please return Thursday to possibly claim your book.