Monday, November 18, 2013

Songs of Three Islands: A Memoir by Millicent Monks

Songs of Three Islands: A Memoir.  Millicent Monks. Easton Studio Press LLC. October 2013. 264 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9781935212447.

Three islands provided homes for generations of the Carnegie family: Cumberland Island off the coast of Florida, Crescent Island near Maine, and the North Island near the Canadian border.  These islands also serve as the metaphors and symbols of the singular world of madness plaguing the women in this notable family.  The islands hold myriad nightmarish voices emerging from the unconscious and merging with the so often harsh reality of the consciousness of these family members.  Millicent Monk wrote this memoir to bring this world to light, to remove the stigma of mental illness, to be a guide for those who have no access to mental health in their illness or for their families.  To discover that what one feels, thinks, says and does that is so irrational and creates such indescribable havoc in families is life-giving in a way that will be pure salvation for those who read this painful, poignant but incredibly important account.

Millicent Monks first offers the world of her mother, Lucy Carnegie, a woman who seemed to slowly go mad. Yes, she heard voices and believed fanatically in germs destroying her children, but she was also the victim of harsh verbal and even physical abuse from her husband who appeared convivial and charming to everyone else.  The reader is not sure which is worse, watching the descent of Lucy into madness to the point where she has to be committed to a hospital or the way the author tries to cope with it, turning off every thought and feeling, knowing that if she thinks or feels too much about it all she will surely go mad herself. But such a solution isn’t a cure at all but only a different road into the world of mental illness that increases with time; underneath the total lack of feeling is indescribable hurt and anger that cannot help but leak out initially and then more forcefully later on. As she puts it so well, “What could be crueler, to live on this earth and not be able to feel loved or love oneself?” Fortunately, Millicent Monks has experienced her own precious years of difficult but healing therapy.

The author also recounts the crises experienced with her own battle with cancer and her daughter’s borderline personality disorder.  It sounds so simple to name a disease but it is very practical the way Ms. Monks describes learning to care and let go or not care at the same time in order not to be consumed by this major problem.

To say more would be to spoil a very special read, a memoir of beautiful descriptions of the islands juxtaposed with the miasma of mental disease threatening to leash its “murderous rage” upon any and all.  What is more important is that this memoir is not just a litany of suffering but a tribute to the strength required and manifested by family members, including the author’s loving husband Bobby, doctors, and other mental health practitioners, as well as friends and other family members.  In a world that often spends far too much time lamenting disasters resulting from mental illness in the news, here is a book of hope, a plea to identify and help those in need of treatment and love before any looming crises emerge.  Wonderful memoir worthy of its brave, sensitive and uniquely special author! Highly recommended!

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