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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reviled Mary Lincoln pleads her case..., August 28, 2007
This review is from: Mary: A Novel (Hardcover)
Mary Lincoln has always been portrayed in movies (once by a frantically emoting Mary Tyler Moore) and historical novels (ie, Gore Vidal's Lincoln)as a migraine-plagued hysteric. In Cooke Newman's hands she is all of that, yes, but, more than that, Mary Lincoln becomes human. Granted, Mary here is presented as a shopaholic rivaling Andy Warhol, but, having to deal with Abe's own fits of catatonic melancholia as well as the death of 3 of her 4 children, she has to have some outlet for her frustration, doesn't she? And Robert, her only son to survive to adulthood, is anything but doting on his widowed mother. In fact he has Mary committed to Belleview Sanitarium outside Chicago largely due to her free thinking/shopaholic ways; Robert is almost a villain out of Dickens here, so cold and withdrawn is he toward his mother's plight. Only near the end of Mary's personal account of the events of her life up to and during her incarceration at Belleview, does the reader begin to see that maybe he was justified; as free thinking and liberated as Mary may be, years of massive doses of chloral hydrate and laudanum begin to take their toll. Added to her drug addiction is a rabid loneliness which draws her into the cloudy world of the seance in order to communicate in whatever way possible with her dearly departed: Eddie, Willy, Abe, and, finally, Tad. What emerges is a woman chased by demons no one around her is able to comprehend. Apparently laudanum (an opiate) was prescribed like aspirin in the second half of the 19th Century to cure everything from migraines to grief. Today Mary would be offered some counseling or a support group as a way of dealing with loss and disappointment, not drugged and left to her own devices as she is here. At over 700 pages, the novel is massive, but I could have read on and on, so engaging was Cooke Newman's work. She has done a beautiful job breathing new life into the saga of Mary Lincoln.
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