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This Fragile Life: A Mother's Story of a Bipolar Son Hardcover – June 1, 2012

4.7 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"This Fragile Life is an extraordinary book. . . . compelling, piercing, and informative.” —Kay Redfield Jamison, Ph.D., Professor of Psychiatry, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and author of An Unquiet Mind

 

"[An] eloquent dialogue of mother and son, poetry and prose, sickness and healing,  fury and acceptance, fear and hope, life and death, and, foremost, author and reader." —Cathy N. Davidson, author of Now You See It:  How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn



"With brilliance and tremendous courage, Charlotte Pierce-Baker travels where no other autobiography about mental illness has gone before in terms of discussing issues of a family shattered by the bipolar disorder of their son: race, fear, love, loss and healing. This Fragile Life is a testament to a family forced to cope with mental illness, a unique journey and an emotional triumph. Every family affected with mental illness should read [this] magnificent book." —Andy Behrman, author of Electroboy: A Memoir of Mania

 



"Vigorously written, brave, and candid . . . a deeply moving, instructive account of embattled lives and loves striving for order in the face of a heartbreaking mental illness." —Arnold Rampersad, author of Ralph Ellison and The Life of Langston Hughes

“An important book not to be missed by anyone interested in parenting, mental health, memoir, or African American social history. With this second memoir, Pierce-Baker again distinguishes herself as a writer fiercely capable of writing trauma transcended.” —Alice Randall, author of The Wind Done Gone, award-winning songwriter, and essayist

"Illuminating and brilliant, with poetry and prose, mother and son lay bare the ravages of bipolar disorder and the journey toward growth and understanding. A touching, lyrical memoir."  —Jewell Parker Rhodes, award-winning author of Voodoo Dreams and Douglass' Women

“Charlotte Pierce-Baker has cleared the way for an earnest conversation about mental illness and addiction in the private lives of African Americans. This Fragile Life is a compelling read about a mother's love and determination, a father's compassion and support, and a son's road to recovery and wholeness.” —T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting, Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Distinguished Professor of African American and Diaspora Studies and French, Vanderbilt University

"A dark narrative brightened by a devoted mother’s commitment and resilience in the face of an only child’s strange and terrible illness."  —Kirkus Reviews 

About the Author

A native of Washington, DC, Charlotte Pierce-Baker is a professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and English at Vanderbilt University. She is the author of Surviving the Silence: Black Women’s Stories of Rape.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Chicago Review Press; 1St Edition edition (June 1, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1613741081
  • ISBN-13: 978-1613741085
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #390,962 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I have a lot of books, papers, etc, that I must read and often don't have time to read what I want or like. But I couldn't put this book down. Read it over the course of 2 days. I could feel the agony, persistence, and strong will of the author with regard to her adult son. I felt like I knew her. I wanted to yell at her over and over for what I thought was a pattern of enabling, but I wanted to yell because her sense of desperation was all too familiar. This is not a how to book for those with children or family members with bipolar or other mental challenges. Rather it is a book that allows you to sit down and get to know the struggles of a mother whose love has no limits. It's almost like support group therapy in the form of a book for parents. Only you don't have to leave your home. It will definitely make you evaluate your own actions (if you have a child with mental challenges) and will reinforce the fact that you are not alone. Or crazy. The author and her husband are educated, intelligent people, upper-middle class individuals you would think had resources to help their son. But such challenges cross socio-economic lines. When mental illnesses attack your adult child, there is a sense of helplessness that others could never understand. For two days Charlotte Pierce-Baker was my dear friend.
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Format: Hardcover
Like John Wideman in the brilliant Brothers and Keepers, Charlotte Pierce-Baker allows her son Mark's smart, affecting voice to share the narrative. Mark's poetry plays counterpoint to his mother's direct, clear prose as she takes us through heartbreak and hope.

For sure, this book gives the story about mental illness the compassion and intelligence the subject--and subjects--deserve. But the audience for Fragile Life is all of us who pay attention the the life of the minds of loved ones and friends or who understand parenting as an extreme sport. This Fragile Life portrays love in action in all its stamina as our popular culture seldom has the patience to depict it. It lets us into a family, and yet maintains a dignified reserve.

I, too, know and love Charlotte and Houston and Mark, and I'm glad to learn, through this book, the steps, the rock-climbing slippery finger-holds, they took toward health. Like their lives, this book instructs and inspires.

At the Celebration of Black Writing in Philadelphia this past June, Charlotte shared a panel with spoken-word artist Bassie Ikpi. Together, they were riveting. Their discussion necessarily asked a question that reminded me of Sonia Sanchez' mantra: What does it mean to be human? Bless Charlotte for making art from pain.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
An incredibly well-written book from the perspective of a mother (and father) caught by surprise and their struggle with understanding, accepting and helping their son and his mental illness. The storytelling, from a very gifted writer, combined with the anguish of mental illness, felt from the perspective of proud, loving parents makes it difficult to put this book down.

Oh how society needs to better support it's citizens and families with mental illness.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
It broke my heart to read this true story of a family that I know and love.

It confirms there is still a stigma that society attaches to illness of the mind and spirit. It is a stigma that so many average American families daily deal with and keep hidden from family and friends out of fear, guilt, shame, misunderstanding and misinformation. Just look at how quickly the media was to suggest Adam Lanzar's Asperger's Syndrome may have been the cause of his unexplainable and horrific act of violence. Is there really any question about why families with "different" loved ones chose to suffer in silence?

At the conclusion of my unstoppable, one evening, reading of the entire book my first thought was how sorry i was to have been clueless about the suffering the Baker's were experiencing. Certainly, if Charlotte, Houston, or Mark had been physically ill, it would have been widely shared with other colleagues, friends, and acquaintances to give us the opportunity to reach out to them with sympathy and offers of support. It was painful to read, like so many others, they chose secrecy and isolation.

Each year brings new discoveries about the brain but It still remains as mysterious as the deepest depths of the ocean and furthest planets in our galaxy. We may never know or fully understand the complexities of this life defining organ. In the meantime, like anything else we do not know or understand, we should not live in fear of it. Fear, all too often leads to violence and destruction. Fascination, on the other hand, will continue to lead us to further exploration and greater understanding.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I must admit that I have a bias as I write for I know the author, and I have known her husband for half a century. I already held both in high esteem. As I read This Fragile Life, my love and respect grew. Charlotte Pierce-Baker pours out her deepest feelings as she reveals the story of her struggle to come to grips with bipolar disorder in her son. After reading it, I sent copies to several families with bipolar members. The response was overwhelmingly positive, offering words of praise and thanks that someone understood what they had experienced. This is a "must read" for anyone who knows anyone with bipolarity (that will be just about all of us) or does therapy with the families.
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