Reviews by Georgia

Rambler: A Family Pushes Through the Fog of Mental Illness

By: Linda Schmitmeyer

Reviewed by: Georgia Rindler

Steve and Linda Schmitmeyer were happily married for 15 years with three young children. It was a wonderful life. That changed when Steve abruptly quit his job, which began a steady downward spiral. Five years later Steve had a major psychotic episode and Linda learned her husband was being followed by the FBI. What followed were questions, confusion, tension, hospitalizations, doctor appointments, and more questions. Steve was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The diagnosis was later changed to schizoaffective disorder. That was in the 1990s when not a lot was known about mental illness. The family endured and survived with the love and support of those close to them.

Linda grew up in Sidney and Steve on a farm outside of Minster. They met as students at the University of Dayton and married after graduating. Living in west central Ohio, Steve was an engineer at Wright Patterson Air Force Base and Linda taught high school English. After ten years Steve accepted a position with the Society of Automotive Engineers headquartered in Pittsburgh. The family moved to Pennsylvania. Three years later, after a fight with his boss, Steve quit his job. Linda began to notice changes in Steve’s personality. He became short-tempered and withdrawn. Mood swings were accompanied by psychotic thinking and erratic and obsessive behaviors.

On Monday, March 6, 1995 Linda started a journal account of the five most traumatic days of her life. Steve had been taken by police to Detroit Psychiatric Institute following an incident while attending an SAE conference. After a few days, he was transferred to St. Rita’s Hospital in Lima where he spent a month. Their children ranged in age from five to fifteen at the time. The entire family began to learn what living with a severe mental illness meant. Steve was discharged taking five different medications. It took another three years until he was mentally stable.

Bipolar disorder or manic depression and schizoaffective disorder are complex. There are no reliable medical tests to determine mental illness. More than a dozen medications were tried for Steve. Linda writes that at times he wanted to be homeless to escape the overwhelming responsibilities he felt. That was when he lived in his Rambler; a car whose name gives the book its title, and a term that somewhat describes Steve’s journey. Steve took his medications as prescribed and participated in research studies at University of Pittsburgh. Both he and Linda attended workshops and classes offered by the National Alliance on Mental Illness to help them better understand. They fought hard to get to the other side of the nightmare.

Steve was in his late forties when his mind stabilized. A combination of lithium, Wellbutrin, and an antipsychotic were a milestone in his treatment. Family and friends could not comprehend the illness, but did not abandon or distance themselves when things were at their worst.

Linda reflects on why she wrote during Steve’s illness. Her great-great-great grandmother was a writer and life in the 19th century was far from easy. Looking to the journaled history, those writings give a better awareness of the struggles encountered by her ancestors.  Linda’s book took fifteen years to write and may give a face to mental illness and an understanding of what ordinary people experienced.

Linda’s life did not progress as she had imagined. Her journey took her inward. She ends with, “It’s given me a greater appreciation for the resiliency of the human spirit. When thoughts of what if emerge, I move into the moment, toward humility, for there I am at peace with what is.”

Rambler; A Family Pushes Through the Fog of Mental Illness can be found with the non-fiction books in the library; 616.89 SCH.

March 2019

 

 

The Masterpiece

By: Fiona Davis

Reviewed by: Georgia Rindler

The Masterpiece tells the story of Clara Darden and Virginia Clay. Two women separated by almost fifty years are impacted by Grand Central Terminal in New York City.

The book begins in April 1928 with Clara. She is teaching a class at the Grand Central School of Art, struggling to survive in the city. A talented illustrator, Clara needs a chance to break into the male dominated world of art. Young and inspired, Clara relocated from Arizona, coming to New York City for a one term scholarship at the prestigious art school. The story continues with Clara’s successes, failures, loves and losses. The October 29, 1929 stock market crash took a greater than average toll on Clara’s associates. With so many in need of basic food and housing, art was a luxury most people could not afford.

In November 1974 Virginia takes a job in the information booth at Grand Central. Recently divorced with few employable skills, she needs something to support herself and her daughter. The terminal has declined considerably over the last few decades and is in the midst of a lawsuit to be destroyed. After discovering the abandoned art school and impressive works of art, Virginia becomes involved in a crusade to preserve the building and gain it protected status on the National Register of Historic Places.

Alternating between time frames, Davis introduces characters who were driving forces in the lives of the two women. Oddly, much of their influence was by mere chance. Clara was a young adult, Virginia approaching middle age, yet each made a substantial contribution to what would later become a New York City landmark.

In its glory, Grand Central Station was the heartbeat of New York City. Its impressive design made it more than a transportation terminal. Stone and marble were accentuated by large arches and Corinthian columns under a ceiling designed with zodiac constellations. The structure itself was a work of art. By the 1970s it had fallen into disrepair and was at risk of being demolished.

The author researched the history of the building and gives the reader glimpses into the contrasting life of the terminal in different decades.

The Masterpiece is a work of fiction with a bit of a mystery.  It also includes factual information making it an enjoyable read for fans of several genres. Fiona Davis’s work of art can be found with the fiction books in the library; FIC DAV.

February 2019

 

The Pact

By: Jodi Picoult

Reviewed by: Georgia Rindler

I wanted a paperback to take with me on a flight. I’ve read a couple of Jodi Picoult’s novels and each challenged me to reconsider my way of thinking on a particular subject.

The Pact was no different.

It is the story of The Hartes and The Golds, two families who lived next door to each other in a picturesque New England town.  For eighteen years, Melanie & Michael and Augusta & James raised their families side by side and sometimes jointly. Chris Harte and Emily Gold grew up together and both sets of parents were thrilled when they started dating. Visions of a wedding and beautiful grandchildren danced through their minds.

This all comes to an abrupt halt when, at seventeen, Emily suffers a gunshot wound to the head and dies. Chris was with her at the time and is the only one who can relay what happened on that fateful night in November 1997.

Initially Chris says it was a suicide pact; both he and Emily planned to kill themselves, but something went wrong. The evidence does not support his story and the police do not buy it. The district attorney charges Chris with first degree murder and he is arrested on his eighteenth birthday. A judge views the charge as a serious offense and Chris is denied bail. He is forced to wait in jail while his lawyer prepares a defense.

Picoult weaves a tale of injustice on many fronts. Presumed innocent until proven guilty does not seem to apply to Chris while awaiting trial. Opinion of the perfect student/athlete changes as gossip churns. There are two sides to every story and those who know the Hartes could not believe Chris would have killed Emily. That puts the burden of blame on the Golds. How well did they really know their daughter?

A tragedy can rally communities to pull together, or it can pull them apart.

And what about the idyllic teenage couple? Things aren’t always as blissful as they appear. Expectations can put a lot of pressure on young psyches.

Chapters alternate, giving the reader a glimpse into the world in which Chris and Emily lived and the present time. Past events, traumas, and childhood hurts are never truly forgotten. It can take victims a long time to heal, and sometimes they never fully do.

The Pact was written twenty years ago, but the storyline is pertinent in today’s social environment, possibly even more so than in the 1990s. The book can be found in the library with the fiction; FIC PIC and as a paperback; A-PAP PIC.

January 2019