Linda Appleman Shapiro was the daughter of Russian immigrants and grew up in Brooklyn. Her mother's mental dysfunction—withdrawal, melancholy, anger, rigid strictness at times—was a dark shadow that hung over her childhood. When her mother was, as her father said, "Not herself," it made the child wonder who she was. Shapiro's father, a hard-worker attempting to hold the family together, couldn't understand his wife's behaviors, only knowing that her emotional states could be toxic to others, and that she was sometimes a danger to herself. From earliest childhood, little Linda was often left at home to take care of her mother, listening to frightening, rambling monologues about her deprivations in Russia and perilous escape to America. "The shock treatments and tranquilizers… gave her temporary balance, but they robbed her of her memory and diminished her dignity." Eventually becoming a therapist, helping others survive similar mental problems, the author gained perspective that helped her heal.
This author keeps it personal, making the story most effective. We identify with her sense of alienation from the first chapter, as her mother recites rote phrases she expects her little girl to remember and invents elaborate rules she must obey. We feel her father's desperation to maintain a proper front, while seeking to make his wife more functional; we agonize with the author's longing for a normal life. The reader senses that the adult Shapiro would be a deeply empathic therapist because of the suffering she herself experienced. She's Not Herself is a revelatory account of someone who grew up with a mentally ill parent and survived to become an effective, loving mother and a successful professional healer.
RECOMMENDED by the US Review