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The Mythical Bill: A Neurological Memoir (Sightline Books) Paperback – March 15, 2013

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“Jody McAuliffe has written a vivid work whose ostensible subject is her relation to a troubled, puzzling father who was ill; but the book, exploring the hidden depths in one family, seems a reminder that every life is ephemeral and ultimately unfathomable, and that loss is sometimes redeemed in the complicated act of remembering.”—Colette Brooks, author, In the City: Random Acts of Awareness 


A beautifully written memoir of a woman coming to terms with her father’s illness.
When McAuliffe (Theater Studies, Slavic and Eurasian Studies/Duke Univ.; My Lovely Suicides, 2007) was 20, her father died alone in a psychiatric ward, having suffered from dementia, hallucinations and a variety of presumed neurological diseases. How he reached this point, and why, as well as how the McAuliffe family coped, is the author’s subject. While serving in World War II, Bill McAuliffe was diagnosed with torticollis, an involuntary contraction of the neck muscles causing his head to twist toward his ear. After an ill-fated surgery to correct it, he began to experience signs of mental illness, which grew into long, hallucinatory and even violent weekends that overshadowed the author’s childhood. McAuliffe pulls from her father’s diary entries, letters, interviews and extensive research to bring order to her memories and to decipher what actually happened to her father. While it seems there were many culprits for her father’s lingering illness and early death—the VA hospitals, the Navy, misinformed doctors, even other family members—McAuliffe does not lapse into accusatory language; she is more interested in exploring the limitations each faced. Told in a circuitous and, at times, almost dreamlike style, her goal is to investigate her father’s past and to understand her own relationship with him and how it has shaped her life. This is not a memoir written with an audience in mind, filled with lurid details of a family in crisis; rather, it’s a thoughtful meditation that reads as though it were written for the author herself. Readers will feel privileged to share in her journey.
A loving, lyrical, complicated portrait of a mentally ill father and the family he left behind.--Kirkus Reviews



Playwright McAuliffe's (theater, Duke Univ.; My Lovely Suicides) brief, impressionistic memoir meditates on the life of her father, William, who died in a VA hospital when she was 20. A veteran of World War II's Pacific theater, William developed torticollis after returning home, which caused his neck to twist and his head to turn sideways, a condition also known as wry neck. Along with this physical contortion, McAuliffe witnessed her father's descent into periods of dementia, which grew in frequency and severity throughout her life. Searching for the origins of her father's external and internal conditions, she intersperses her story with diary entries and letters her father wrote in his last years, positing causes that include psychoanalytic, post-traumatic, neurochemical, and genetic possibilities.
VERDICT Eloquent, elegiac, and razor sharp, McAuliffe's memoir neither offers nor finds easy answers. This is a moving tribute to a father and a probing exploration of memory, loss, and illness.—Molly McArdle, Library Journal 
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Product Details

  • Series: Sightline Books
  • Paperback: 164 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Iowa Press; 1 edition (March 15, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1609381548
  • ISBN-13: 978-1609381547
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.7 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,458,525 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Brien James on May 28, 2013
Format: Paperback
Kirkus Reviews

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THE MYTHICAL BILL
A Neurological Memoir
Author: Jody McAuliffe

Review Issue Date: March 1, 2013
Online Publish Date: February 6, 2013
Publisher:Univ. of Iowa
Pages: 164
Price ( Paperback ): $18.00
Publication Date: March 15, 2013
ISBN ( Paperback ): 978-1-60938-154-7
Category: Nonfiction

A beautifully written memoir of a woman coming to terms with her father's illness.

When McAuliffe (Theater Studies, Slavic and Eurasian Studies/Duke Univ.; My Lovely Suicides, 2007) was 20, her father died alone in a psychiatric ward, having suffered from dementia, hallucinations and a variety of presumed neurological diseases. How he reached this point, and why, as well as how the McAuliffe family coped, is the author's subject. While serving in World War II, Bill McAuliffe was diagnosed with torticollis, an involuntary contraction of the neck muscles causing his head to twist toward his ear. After an ill-fated surgery to correct it, he began to experience signs of mental illness, which grew into long, hallucinatory and even violent weekends that overshadowed the author's childhood. McAuliffe pulls from her father's diary entries, letters, interviews and extensive research to bring order to her memories and to decipher what actually happened to her father. While it seems there were many culprits for her father's lingering illness and early death--the VA hospitals, the Navy, misinformed doctors, even other family members--McAuliffe does not lapse into accusatory language; she is more interested in exploring the limitations each faced.
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Format: Paperback
In WW2 Bill Macauliffe developed torticollis; two days after surgery to correct it, he tried to kill himself. He spent the last 20 years of his life fighting mental illness ultimately dying unattended and possibly not reported for at least a day. He is called weak and told to just get himself together, but in reality he was a very strong man, holding it together to work and help raise a family, falling apart on weekends and pulling himself back together Sunday nights. He embarrassed, frustrated, and scared his family, but Jody, his daughter, never stopped loving him.

This book is Jody's memoir of what it was like growing up with Bill as a father, and of her search for answers. It jumps back and forth in time, visiting Bill's childhood, his time in the military and his death in a hospital and right into the present as Jody talks to doctors, trying to find out what Bill really had. Did the surgery for the torticollis do something to his mind, or did he have preexisting mental illness? His surgery took place on the day she was born; she never knew her father as a man without mental illness. It's a touching book.
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Format: Kindle Edition
University Of Iowa Press was kind enough to provide me with a copy of this eGalley through NetGalley for the purposes of reading and review it. Although it was provided at no cost to me, I am under no obligation to give a positive review.

In this book, the author tells the story of her father, William "Bill" McAuliffe, and his battle with mental illness. While it seems to begin with torticollis, a disease which involves involuntary contraction of neck muscles, causing the head to be held at an unusual angle, the author digs pretty heavily into who her father was both before and after World War II, where he served in the Pacific Theater.

Along the way, we are exposed to a heart-breaking history of a man who slowly declined in health, both physically and mentally, before dying unexpectedly on the psychiatric ward of a hospital in the seventies. The author pulls no punches in her analysis of her father, herself and her immediate family. Her narrative is broken up by diary entries from Bill himself as well as memories from her mother, brothers, and other family members.

Ms. McAuliffe makes many literary and film parallels between those works and her and her father's lives. She even notes her penchant for being involved in theater productions with a male protagonist or character with demons not unlike her father's.

And so the book proceeds, with the author delving deeper and deeper into her research on her father, his past, and even herself and who she is. Is she destined to be like her father? Or will she be her own person?

This book is very introspective and informational, and as such I learned much about torticollis and Bill's battle with it. It's also very open and honest in all regards. In that, I think the author succeeded marvelously.
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