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Book Forum: SCHIZOPHRENIA SPECTRUM   |    
Imagining Robert: My Brother, Madness, and Survival, a Memoir
E. FULLER TORREY, M.D.
Am J Psychiatry 1998;155:1292-1292.
View Author and Article Information
Washington, D.C.

by Jay Neugeboren. New York, William Morrow, 1997, 305 pp., $24.00; $14.95 (paperback published by Henry Holt & Co.)

Book Forum

"Why did God create sick people? Tell me, Jay. Tell me." The question haunts Jay Neugeboren and permeates the book he has written about his brother, Robert, who has schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder. Imagining Robert is a book with great strengths and great weaknesses, and the latter ultimately predominate.

Jay Neugeboren is a novelist and teacher at Amherst, and the book accurately reflects his considerable writing talents. His affection for, and devotion to, his sick brother are exemplary, a shining model for all who have a loved one who is disabled. It is the same devotion that keeps pushing the author to his Job-like task of asking, "Why?"

Jay Neugeboren ultimately blames his mother and the psychiatrists for his brother’s illness. His mother had apparently favored Robert in childhood and, according to Jay, denigrated himself. He says, "Although it would be hard, scientifically, to prove that any human being literally drives any other human being mad, common sense indicates that if you keep hitting a child in the same sensitive place, over and over again—consistently or inconsistently—your blows will have effect." But wait a minute: by this theory, shouldn’t it have been Jay who developed schizophrenia rather than Robert? And Neugeboren ignores the fact that there is not a scintilla of evidence that the quality of mothering differs in individuals who later develop schizophrenia, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, or none of the above.

The psychiatrists come in for an equal share of the blame because they cannot get Robert well. The author is ambivalent about medications, recognizing that they sometimes help his brother to live outside the hospital but that they also have side effects and do not cure him. Jay wanted Robert to be given "individual psychotherapy once or twice a week…for say, two or three years" in addition to medication. Jay himself has apparently undergone extensive psychoanalytic psychotherapy and believes it helped him. So why shouldn’t it also help his brother? The book cover has an endorsement by Joanne Greenberg, author of I Never Promised You a Rose GardenR291559CHDDIEHG, the mythical tale in which talk therapy cured an individual who had some form of unspecified mental disorder.

For those of us who have a sibling with schizophrenia or other severe psychiatric disorder, it is a delight to see books being published that discuss our concerns. Margaret Moorman’s My Sister’s KeeperR291559CHDDIBCH, Clea Simon’s Mad HouseR291559CHDEAEJC, Victoria Secunda’s When Madness Comes HomeR291559CHDBADIF, and Diane Marsh and Rex Dickens’ Troubled JourneyR291559CHDECEJA are all excellent. Imagining Robert climbs partway to these heights but is ultimately dragged down by the recurring voice of the author’s psychoanalyst.

Greenberg J: I Never Promised You a Rose Garden. New York, New American Library-Dutton, 1989
 
Moorman M: My Sister’s Keeper: Learning to Cope With a Sibling’s Mental Illness. New York, WW Norton, 1992
 
Simon C: Mad House: Growing Up in the Shadows of Mentally Ill Siblings. New York, Doubleday, 1997
 
Secunda V: When Madness Comes Home: Help and Hope for the Children, Siblings, and Partners of the Mentally Ill. New York, Hyperion, 1997
 
Marsh D, Dickens R: Troubled Journey: Coming to Terms With the Mental Illness of a Sibling or Parent. New York, GP Putnam’s Sons, 1997
 
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References

Greenberg J: I Never Promised You a Rose Garden. New York, New American Library-Dutton, 1989
 
Moorman M: My Sister’s Keeper: Learning to Cope With a Sibling’s Mental Illness. New York, WW Norton, 1992
 
Simon C: Mad House: Growing Up in the Shadows of Mentally Ill Siblings. New York, Doubleday, 1997
 
Secunda V: When Madness Comes Home: Help and Hope for the Children, Siblings, and Partners of the Mentally Ill. New York, Hyperion, 1997
 
Marsh D, Dickens R: Troubled Journey: Coming to Terms With the Mental Illness of a Sibling or Parent. New York, GP Putnam’s Sons, 1997
 
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