Here’s literary proof of the empathy of bipolar people; Marya Hornbacher manages to get right under the skin of just about any kind of character and she handles three first person voices beautifully. The Center of Winter was a damn fine read – lots of echoes of phrases from Madness, but not to a negative level. From a tragic start, what shone steadily through the novel, is human resilience (and beauty in unexpected places). Characters who almost seemed like caricatures initially, grew and deepened until first impressions seemed hazy and distant.
It is the tale of a working class family in 1960s America and although there is madness and pain in it, the story somehow transcends that to illustrate some universal truths about humanity in a rather surprisingly affectionate way, given the fact that the central tragedy is suicide.
I nodded. “Systems are fragile.” I turned my face up to her. “Systems are simultaneously very strong and very fragile.” I turned back to the television, satisfied. “That is my favorite paradox,” I said.
(That’s my favourite Esau quote – he’s a truly lovely, solemn character and the first to display ‘issues’.)
The mental illness aspects of the book are dealt with in context of the times, so we are spared the postmodern jargon in favour of a sort of efficient and compassionate simplicity. You get an accurate look at institutions and limitations, but it avoids the horror cliché and focuses on what those realities probably looked like to the people involved. Zero sensationalism, more of the quiet grind surrounding the drama.
It doesn’t tell you that love does or does not conquer all; it quietly shows you just how beautiful and strange love is and that it can (and does) often endure almost anything.
I loved this book, it cares.