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Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family

by Robert Kolker

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
9796217,168 (4.15)72
"Don and Mimi Galvin seemed to be living the American dream. After World War II, Don's work with the Air Force brought them to Colorado, where their twelve children perfectly spanned the baby boom: the oldest born in 1945, the youngest in 1965. In those years, there was an established script for a family like the Galvins--aspiration, hard work, upward mobility, domestic harmony--and they worked hard to play their parts. But behind the scenes was a different story: psychological breakdown, sudden shocking violence, hidden abuse. By the mid-1970s, six of the ten Galvin boys, one after the other, were diagnosed as schizophrenic. How could all this happen to one family? What took place inside the house on Hidden Valley Road was so extraordinary that the Galvins became one of the first families to be studied by the National Institutes of Mental Health. Their story offers a shadow history of the science of schizophrenia, from the era of institutionalization, lobotomy, and the schizophrenogenic mother, to the search for genetic markers for the disease, always amidst profound disagreements about the nature of the illness itself. And unbeknownst to the Galvins, samples of their DNA informed decades of genetic research that continues today, offering paths to treatment, prediction, and even eradication of the disease for future generations. With clarity and compassion, bestselling and award-winning author Robert Kolker uncovers one family's unforgettable legacy of suffering, love and hope"--… (more)
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» See also 72 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 63 (next | show all)
I did not look forward to reading Hidden Valley chosen by my book group. Once I started I couldn't put it down. As they say about horrible car accidents - I couldn't look away.
I really thought the author put too much blame on the mother Mimi. Leaving your child in a state mental institution at the time was a pretty drastic solution and she did it more than once. Read the book and see what you think. It's a great book group choice. ( )
  janw | Apr 27, 2022 |
Fascinating and tragic examination of a family of 12 children, 6 of whom have schizophrenia, growing up in Colorada in the 1950s and '60s. Extensively researched and in-depth interviews with the family members. ( )
  Dairyqueen84 | Mar 15, 2022 |
Fascinating ( )
  chasidar | Mar 14, 2022 |
Robert Kolker skillfully wove the incredible story of the Galvin family with the fascinating science of schizophrenia, explaining exactly how researchers' understanding of the disease has improved over time. Most interesting was learning about the evolution of this research, thanks to the tireless and passionate efforts of a few main scientists (who get the ample attention they deserve in this book). Current treatment is severely inadequate (although still better than nothing), but astounding new break-throughs in understanding the disease could make life-changing in-utero intervention a reality.

This is a nearly perfect book. Kolker wrote about the Galvins with sensitivity while holding nothing back in describing the extreme toll that schizophrenia took, not just on the six affected children but on the entire family. Kolker shared less about the psychology of the parents, particularly of the father, but this could be owing to lack of information available to him (possibly purposefully since he did conduct extensive interviews of the living family members and some others). He took a neutral, unbiased tone, and he was a true professional in his efforts to remain uncritical and respectful when discussing the use of psychiatric medication.

For a thorough and dramatic portrait of what schizophrenia looks like, Hidden Valley Road is the book to read.

Full review on Goodreads. ( )
  Caroline77 | Mar 1, 2022 |
Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker is the story of the Galvin family; parents, ten sons, two daughters. Six of the family's sons have schizophrenia, a serious mental disorder whose sufferers lose touch with reality and live in a world of delusions, have hallucinations, are disorganized in their thinking and speech, and in the case of the Galvin boys, the disease may lead to abusive words and actions.

It's a fascinating and utterly horrific story. I listened to the tale on an audiobook, which I often had to pause to cry. I'm not given to crying much at fiction except in the odd book here and there (Of Mice and Men; The Book Thief). This story, however, was true, and unbelievably sad. No member of the Galvin family was left unscathed by the disease - they were either schizophrenic or the victims of one of one of their family members. There are long stretches of physical and verbal abuse, the revulsive act of childhood sexual abuse, and outright murder.

Beyond the harrowing narrative of the Galvin family is the history of schizophrenia and its treatment throughout time. The Human Genome Project and the particular genetics of multiplex families in the United States led to breakthroughs in the science of the disease. Scientists are now able to treat, in utero, fetuses that may be at danger of schizophrenia, using injections of choline to counteract problems in a patient's genetic structuring of acetycholine, the chief neurotransmitter of the parasympathetic nervous system. Without families like the Galvins science may still be struggling to treat the symptoms of schizophrenia; the choline treatment gives children the chance to grow up untouched by the illness.

The book dragged in the last few chapters. Several times I thought the book was over, only to have the narrator announce another chapter. I often wondered what else the book could possibly say, and I think that Book 3 of the story could have been made more precise and less wordy.

Hidden Valley Road was too much for me. It was very interesting, it was all-encompassing, and a fine work of non-fiction. That being said, as a bipolar woman it reminded me often of stays in the psychiatric ward, of the feeling of careening too near the cliff of absolute madness. Many of the medications used to treat schizophrenia patients are ones that I have used to counteract mania. The tragedies that this family faced made me think of my own broken family, brought to a complete divide by the dread power of mental illness. I'm stable now, but I often wonder if I will stay that way, and this book's discussion of madness and stability reminded me that every day, even with the use of psychiatric drugs and talk therapy, how close I am to that edge. ( )
  ahef1963 | Jan 10, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 63 (next | show all)
Kolker’s telling of the Galvin trials is at once deeply compassionate and chilling. ... Interwoven with the harrowing familial story is the history of how the science on schizophrenia has fitfully evolved, from the eras of institutionalization and shock therapy, to the profound disagreements about the cause and origins of the illness, to the search for genetic markers for the disease.
added by Lemeritus | editWashington Post, Karen Iris Tucker (pay site) (Apr 9, 2020)
 
Kolker carefully reconstructs the story of the household falling into bedlam as the strong, athletic brothers warred with their demons and one another in flights of violent rage, each one slipping further away. ... Kolker is a restrained and unshowy writer who is able to effectively set a mood. As the walls begin closing in for the Galvins, he subtly recreates their feeling of claustrophobia, erasing the outside world that has offered so little help.
added by Lemeritus | editThe New York Times, Sam Dolnick (pay site) (Apr 3, 2020)
 
Hidden Valley Road blends two stories in alternating chapters. The first is about the overwhelmed Galvin parents, Don and Mimi, and how raising a boisterous Catholic family of 10 sons from the 1950s to the ’70s may have allowed mental illness to hide in plain sight. ... The second story in Hidden Valley Road details the thankless psychiatric research that has gone into defining schizophrenia and establishing treatments. ... Kolker is a compassionate storyteller who underscores how inadequate medical treatment and an overreliance on “tough love” and incarceration underpin so much of the trauma this family experienced.
added by Lemeritus | editBookPage, Jessica Wakeman (Apr 1, 2020)
 
Best-selling, award-winning journalist Kolker (Lost Girls, 2013) takes a bracing look at the history of the diagnosis and treatment of schizophrenia by exploring the staggering tragedies of the Galvin family. ... he weaves the larger history of schizophrenia research and how the family eventually came to the attention of scientists striving to find a cure. Kolker tackles this extraordinarily complex story so brilliantly and effectively that readers will be swept away. An exceptional, unforgettable, and significant work that must not be missed.
added by Lemeritus | editBooklist, Colleen Mondor (Feb 15, 2020)
 
Journalist Kolker (Lost Girls) delivers a powerful look at schizophrenia and the quest to understand it. He focuses on a much-studied case: that of Colorado couple Don and Mimi Galvin’s 12 children, born between 1945 and 1965, six of whom were diagnosed with the illness. ... This is a haunting and memorable look at the impact of mental illness on multiple generations.
added by Lemeritus | editPublishers Weekly (Feb 4, 2020)
 
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Epigraph
The clearest way that you can show endurance is by sticking with a family. -Anne Tyler
Dedication
For Judy and Jon
First words
Prologue: A brother and sister walk out of their house together, through the patio door that opens out from the family kitchen and into their backyard.
Chapter 1: Every so often, in the middle of doing yet another thing she'd never imagined doing, Mimi Galvin would pause and take a breath and consider what, exactly, had brought her to that moment.
Quotations
For a family, schizophrenia is, primarily, a felt experience, as if the foundation of the family is permanently tilted in the direction of the sick family member.
But one thing seemed true: If they admitted Donald to anything resembling a mental hospital, the only certainties were shame and disgrace, and the end of Donald’s college education, and the tainting of Don’s career, and a stain on the family’s position in the community, and finally the end of the chance for their other eleven children to have respectable, normal lives.
...schizophrenia itself remained ragingly mysterious, and the drugs themselves could be physically damaging? The drugs made some patients obese, others stiff and ungainly, others practically catatonic—this from drugs that had been hailed as miracles. For the chronically mentally ill, success had been defined down to a point where it was starting to look a lot like failure. The only real, unambiguous beneficiary of drugs, of course, were pharmaceutical companies—all of which were still developing variations of the same original drug, Thorazine, that had been developed back in the 1950s. Then again, their very efficacy had seemed to stifle innovation. Why was it that every new drug brought to market had been either a version of neuroleptics like Thorazine or atypical neuroleptics like clozapine—with no disrupting third class of drug to spur forward progress?
“One of the things that has characterized psychiatry research forever is the old saying of, ‘Looking for the lost keys where the light is.’ Everything has been, ‘Well, we have this tool. We have a hammer, so we’re going to look for nails.’ And we would find things, because this is the nature of phenomenology—you find things.” Whether they were promising leads or red herrings, no one knew for sure.
The schizophrenia researcher Rue L. Cromwell described this dilemma in the 1970s: “Like riding the merry-go-round, one chooses his horse. One can make believe his horse leads the rest. Then when a particular ride is finished, one must step off only to observe that the horse has really gone nowhere. Yet, it has been a thrilling experience. There may even be the yen to go again.”
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"Don and Mimi Galvin seemed to be living the American dream. After World War II, Don's work with the Air Force brought them to Colorado, where their twelve children perfectly spanned the baby boom: the oldest born in 1945, the youngest in 1965. In those years, there was an established script for a family like the Galvins--aspiration, hard work, upward mobility, domestic harmony--and they worked hard to play their parts. But behind the scenes was a different story: psychological breakdown, sudden shocking violence, hidden abuse. By the mid-1970s, six of the ten Galvin boys, one after the other, were diagnosed as schizophrenic. How could all this happen to one family? What took place inside the house on Hidden Valley Road was so extraordinary that the Galvins became one of the first families to be studied by the National Institutes of Mental Health. Their story offers a shadow history of the science of schizophrenia, from the era of institutionalization, lobotomy, and the schizophrenogenic mother, to the search for genetic markers for the disease, always amidst profound disagreements about the nature of the illness itself. And unbeknownst to the Galvins, samples of their DNA informed decades of genetic research that continues today, offering paths to treatment, prediction, and even eradication of the disease for future generations. With clarity and compassion, bestselling and award-winning author Robert Kolker uncovers one family's unforgettable legacy of suffering, love and hope"--

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