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Swallow the Ocean: A Memoir Paperback – February 1, 2009


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Counterpoint; First Trade Paper Edition edition (February 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1582434611
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582434612
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #218,732 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

It was 1975, and nine-year-old Flynn was sitting with her mother on the floor of their San Francisco apartment with a pile of money as her mother explained that the faces of these men on the coins and bills in front of us... had impact on people and events. Flynn's father had moved out a year earlier; her two sisters were at school, where she, too, should have been; instead, her mother needed to talk with her about all those faces on the money. This is how Flynn, a writing instructor at the University of Minnesota, begins her elegantly written story of how her mother had been an adventurous bohemian in the 1950s and '60s, before she became unhinged by what was later diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenia. Family life became bizarrely unpredictable as her mother became attached to stranger and stranger notions. After her father moved out, mother laid out the new terms of our lives... staying inside, and cutting all our ties to other people... careful about what we ate, and what we wore. Readers begin to share Flynn's sense of dread about what her mother might do next, heightened by the disturbingly controlled calm of her narration. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* What is a child to do when the parent who’s the center of her universe becomes desperately ill? That’s the wrenching reality Flynn faces when she learns that her mother is a paranoid schizophrenic. The words were “long and strange and frankly, ugly,” writes Flynn, who was 10 at the time her father gave her mother’s frazzled frame of mind a name. “Even so, I had a feeling it was something I could hang onto, something I could rebuild my world around.” For years, Flynn and her two sisters, one older, one younger, played along as characters in their mother’s fantasy world. But when her seemingly innocuous antics (forbidding certain foods and making lists of good and evil things) turned violent, the girls’ father filed for divorce, then custody. Flynn’s haunting memoir vividly recaptures the San Francisco of the 1970s, an emotionally fraught era in which quirky behaviors were more likely to be sanctioned than scorned. Flynn’s ability to render the perspective of a child elevates this memoir from ordinary to extraordinary. From the start, readers see inside her impressionable young mind as she lives from one breathless moment to the next, grappling with scenarios that would level the most well-adjusted adults. --Allison Block --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

This is a very worthwhile read.
Rita M. Harris
Ms Flynn builds a bridge for us to help better understand mental illness and how families struggle to do their best under very trying circumstances.
Dick
The author is a wonderful story teller and I thank her for sharing her very personal story.
LCB

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

58 of 59 people found the following review helpful By Dick on January 23, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is a moving and beautifully written love story by a daughter about her mother and her entire family. It is a must-read for anyone who has ever lived in proximity with someone who is 'walking wounded' as a consequence of mental illness, but is not ill enough to be hospitalized. In a most beautiful and moving way, Ms Flynn tells her story of growing up in San Francisco as her Mom descends into mental illness.
I was truly blessed with Swallow the Ocean only a few weeks after caring for and then burying a mentally ill relative who had simply worn out those who lived in closest contact with him. He couldn't help being ill; the relatives who weren't around for him could be forgiven for giving up on him. He was not easy to love.
Ms Flynn builds a bridge for us to help better understand mental illness and how families struggle to do their best under very trying circumstances.
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42 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Sawadee Reader on January 19, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Once you begin reading "Swallow the Ocean," you won't be able to put it down. I read it until 3 am, and I would have kept on reading it if I hadn't gotten to the end. This is just one of those books. I don't want to give too much away, but I will say that the story will break your heart and then help you put it back together again.

This is a marvelous, beautiful book. The writing is stunning!
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37 of 42 people found the following review helpful By sarah on February 12, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I am not a big memoir reader- even acclaimed ones are usually too self-indulgent for my tastes. But a friend pressed Swallow the Ocean on me, and once I got started I couldn't put it down. It lights up many parts of your brain as you are reading it, and for some time afterwards too.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Heather O'Roark on August 7, 2008
Format: Hardcover
First of all, this is a memoir but it's written like a novel. Honestly, Flynn's writing is just so beautiful - she captures each moment with just the right words and stunning phrases, I really look forward to whatever she writes next, whether it be fiction or not. So for those of you not such big fans of memoirs, this may be a good one to pick up simply for the novel-esque quality about it.

Second of all, I was especially intrigued by this book because I have an undergraduate degree in psychology and mental illness is something that I've studied and that I'm very interested in. I also spent two years in college volunteering at a crisis/suicide hotline, where in addition to receiving calls from suicide victims, we also spoke with several "regulars" who were sufferers of different types of mental illnesses, including schizophrenia. The behaviors Flynn described her mother doing were very similar to what I saw in the people that I had worked with who suffered from schizophrenia. It was heartbreaking (yet also interesting) to read about this disease from a child's perspective, and to see the utter destruction it caused in these three girls' lives. It made me sad to read about the first time Flynn's father attempted to gain custody, when her mother put on such a good show that the courts threw his case right out - keep in mind, this was in a time when the mother ALWAYS got custody, so it was of course a long shot to begin with. But all the same, how sad to be a child in this terrifying situation, when even your own father cannot rescue you?

The ending of this book is ultimately triumphant, although sad at the same time. I feel for Flynn, being a thirtysomething woman and not having a mother to talk to - personally, my mother is one of the most important people in my life.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Jennifer Bradley on February 27, 2008
Format: Hardcover
My heart still breaks for the little girls at the center of this book, and their carefully constructed world of imagination that fights against the illness in their house. The writing has an ethereal quality to it that keeps you turning the pages long after bedtime, and sticks with you long after the last riveting page.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful By H. E. Goodman on February 4, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Swallow the Ocean is one of the most tremendous memoirs I have ever read. I could feel the build of events, though they were never once written about in an overly dramatic fashion. The book seems to be crafted with the opposite in mind- a quiet, brooding, mounting pressure, all given to the reader as if on the sly, as if sharing a whispered secret. So that by the time I read one of the final scenes, I was in part stunned that there was this kind of action after so much surviving of the incremental steps. Simply, it does everything a powerful memoir should do, but is even more beautiful because it's done thoughtfully, quietly, elegantly.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Michael Bischoff on February 12, 2008
Format: Hardcover
The first two days the book was in my house, I lost it to my wife, who read it straight threw. Then I couldn't put it down. For such a subject that can be so heavy, the writing is very easy to sink into and enjoy. I also grew up with a parent who was mentally ill for many years. This book found an approach to talking about growing up with a mentally ill parent that was just the right balance of directly looking at what is painful and lightness. The author can sometimes takes a refreshing birds-eye view, while also noticing intimate, specific details of family life. I found reading it to be very life-affirming.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Suzanne Amara VINE VOICE on May 16, 2010
Format: Paperback
This is exactly the kind of memoir I most like to read. The author, Laura Flynn, tells in clear, beautiful language a muddled, sad story---her life with her mother, who was paranoid schizophrenic but refused any treatment. She and her sisters endure years of life with a mother who was increasingly out of touch with reality, who took out much of her anger on Laura's older sister Sara, and who in spite of all this could at times be an amazing, creative mother. This is a also an account of how hard it was in the 1970s for a father to get custody of children, even in a case like this where the mother was clearly unfit to parent. Thankfully, he finally did, and the dramatic way Laura's mother falls apart the day that happens casts a sad light over the memory of the years before and over all the future years. The memoir is also, in a way, one that may give hope to a lot of people---Laura and her sisters turn out well, saved by the happy early years and the love of their father and step-mother, and extended family. I really liked the writing here. The book was well-written without being showy---I never got the feeling this was a showplace for hours spent in writer's workshops, but rather, a story that needed to be told and was told, very well.
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