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Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide Hardcover – January 1, 2011

4.4 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

“Half in love with easeful death” is how poet John Keats described his dreamy sense that death would be a welcome release. Linda Gray Sexton, daughter of Anne Sexton, should have been immunized against suicide by the pain of losing her mother, who took her own life at the height of her fame as one of the prime movers in the confessional poetry movement. But in midlife, as her own writing career seemed stalled and her marriage more distant than satisfying, Sexton found herself hounded by the same demons that had destroyed her mother. She writes of three suicide attempts in grim and detailed prose, but at the end she describes a newly settled and happier life with the demons held at bay. The rather rushed ending feels less settled than Sexton probably intended, but overall this is a welcome personal look at the specter that haunts many families, in which a parent’s suicide can threaten the mental health of descendants. --Patricia Monaghan


Praise for Half in Love

"A clear and in-depth portrait of what it is like to attempt to take one’s own life and the ghastly legacy such an action leaves the bereaved family. For anyone who wishes to understand what drives a person to kill himself or herself, Half in Love brings a deeper understanding of the illness than anything short of feeling the urge to commit suicide oneself." —American Psychological Association Review of Books

"A welcome personal look at the specter that haunts many families, in which a parent’s suicide can threaten the mental health of descendants." —Booklist

“In a country where someone commits suicide every seventeen minutes, where bipolar disorder is rampant and poorly understood, Linda Sexton’s beautiful book is a cry for health and sanity. It will bring hope and understanding because it explains the way suicide blights families from generation to generation.” —Erica Jong, author of Fear of Flying

“In her new memoir, Linda Sexton completes the circle opened up with her stunning memoir, Searching for Mercy Street—but this time, the woman whose torment she explores is not her mother, but herself, and where her mother’s story ended with despair, hers is one of survival. With brutal honesty and total lack of self-pity or sentimentality, Linda Sexton has dared to explore a subject more taboo than almost any other: not only suicide, but what comes after, for its survivors. This is a book that will speak to anyone touched by the suicide of someone we knew or loved—as so many of us have been.” —Joyce Maynard, author of At Home in the World and To Die For

Half in Love is a gripping account of the legacy left by a mother’s suicide and an eloquent testament to a daughter’s struggle to wrench herself free of the damage left in the wake of turmoil. Linda Sexton’s determination to forge an identity independent of suicide and destruction is powerful; her book is a vivid and inspiring story of living through despair and coming out the stronger for it.” —Kay Redfield Jamison, author of An Unquiet Mind, and Professor of Psychiatry, John Hopkins School of Medicine

“Linda Sexton is one hell of a brave writer. In her memoir, she takes us on a harrowing journey, to the edge of death and then beyond, to a new, safe place. She’s now able to tell her story about the entanglement with her mother’s legacy—‘half in love with easeful death.’ It’s a story that will reach deep into many readers’ hearts. She makes the telling of this tale an act of grace, of art, of redemption.” —Ellen Sussman, author of On a Night Like This and the upcoming French Lessons

“This is an exquisitely crafted story that needs to be told: how depression and suicide can be passed down through the generations. The most loving, committed mother can suffer such intense pain that all reason is blacked out and death seems the only answer. Linda Sexton is unsparing in her honesty and unfailing in her eloquence as she takes us from the descent to hell to the miracle of recovery. After a siege of courting death, she comes to fall wholly in love with life.” —Sara Davidson, author of Leap! and Loose Change

“Once again, Sexton has pulled off something truly remarkable—in prose that is both graceful and raw she crafts powerful scenes that vibrate with authenticity. I cannot recall a more riveting description of a nearly lethal suicide attempt. The suspense leaps off the pages, pages which the reader is now turning furiously. Also powerful is her deep understanding of how suicide permanently impacts the family through multiple generations and her descriptions of self-stigmatization, which, by the way, belong in mental health curricula.” —Dr. Frederick K. Goodwin, MD, Professor of Psychiatry, George Washington University, Former Director of the National Institute of Mental Health

Half in Love is a testament to the potentially mortal wounds that suicide inflicts upon the living. Linda Gray Sexton has transformed her emotional suffering into a memoir of stunning intimacy. Wise, insightful, and unflinchingly honest, Sexton mines the depths of the darkest despair and ultimately her own salvation. This is a masterful work, beautifully written, by a brave soul of remarkable talent.” —James Brown, author of The Los Angeles Diaries and This River

Praise for Searching for Mercy Street

“Powerful and affecting . . . a candid, often painful, depiction of a daughter’s struggles to come to terms with her powerful and emotionally troubled mother. Sexton writes with compelling urgency and candor and has not tried to gloss over the difficulties of their relationship or resolve the ambivalence of her own emotions. Rather, she has set all these conflicts down on paper, leaving us with a disturbing portrait or a mercurial, impossible, and magnetic woman.” —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

“A courageous journey into the dark terrain of remembering, forgiving and healing through telling—a trait that is her birthright.” —People

“One never doubts that Linda Gray Sexton has told us the truth . . . Her writing is at its best: lean, quick, tightly conceived . . . The book almost reeks of authenticity. Searching for Mercy Street is never less than fascinating.” —The New York Times Book Review

“This memoir has an urgency about it and it is to Sexton’s credit as an honest and largely unself-serving narrator that throughout she has chosen to forgo the primitive gratification of scrawling over the picture of her childish mother-worship with fat black crayon; instead she continues to add strokes of color and lightness to an ever-darkening portrait. By the book’s end she has made her way valiantly back to her mother, passing through the portals of rage and despair before she glimpses the possibility of separating out Anne Sexton’s perverse influence from her legacy of delight in words and experience . . . Searching for Mercy Street is suffused with a complicated kind of love.” —Daphne Merkin, The New Yorker

“In this spectacular story of a glamorous, talented and beautiful family veering toward disaster, Linda Sexton has broken the code of silence which often surrounds the American home. In her powerful and graceful prose, honed in four novels of her own, she has quietly and lovingly told the story of her mother and the family she loved both too much and too little. Any mother or daughter, any child of an alcoholic parent, anyone who has lived with the all-consuming obsession of a writer with their work, will recognize themselves in this ravishing portrait.” —Susan Cheever

“In this deft, beautiful memoir, Sexton covers difficult family territory with unique grace.” —New York Daily News

“Sexton has written about intense personal conflicts, evoked strong emotion, and stayed true to it. The saga of this daughter and her mother is inherently fascinating.” —Chicago Tribune

“One of the most illuminating things here is that careful, industrious Linda—who, as she grows older, bravely fights off her own depressions, headaches, even suicidal thoughts, idolizing ‘normalcy’, health, and domestic responsibility—seems a far better writer than her mom.” —Carolyn See, The Washington Post Book World

“Linda Gray Sexton’s exploration is so smart, so well-written, moving, and generous that it transcends the typecasting that could easily have become a trap . . . Written with grace, precision and, most important, love.” —Los Angeles Times Book Review

“Heroic.” —New York Newsday

“This cathartic and anguish-filled book spares no details of the mother’s selfish and difficult personality or her intense and fortifying love.” —Library Journal

“In deceptively fluid prose, Linda explores her complex relationship to her mother and strips raw the nerves of a troubled family.” —Kirkus (starred review)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Counterpoint; English Language edition (January 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1582437181
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582437187
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,375,750 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Having a poet-genius for a parent would be difficult for many children. Having an abusive, self-centered parent would be destructive for most children. Having Anne Sexton as your mother would be the worst of both worlds for Linda Gray Sexton.

"Half In Love" is the conclusion of a trilogy of works about the Sexton Family. Starting with Diana Middlebrook's biography of Anne Sexton in 1991, Linda Gray Sexton attempted to understand herself by cooperating with the writer of her mother's life. Then she published her own memoir of life with her alcoholic and mentally-ill mother in 1994 ("Searching For Mercy Street"), twenty years after her mother's suicide. Now, in 2010, she has written a second memoir, "Half In Love," about the culminative effects upon her adult life from her twenty-one years with Ann Sexton as her mother.

Linda Gray Sexton writes of her own life-and-death struggles with suicidal depression, of the loss of family and friends who were exhausted dealing with her pain and of her own survival in the end. The writing is compelling but the story is very intense. It is eerie to read of her drive to be a writer (like her mother), to cycle through therapy and medications (like her mother), and to attempt suicide (like her mother). Unlike her mother, she has lived longer than her. Survival can be its own victory.
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By Amira on February 22, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Linda Sexton's memoir of mental illness and suicide attempts will clearly not be everyone's cup of tea. However, that does not mean it is not an important and compellingly told story. Linda bravely does not flinch from telling readers about every feeling and action even though it sometimes makes her an unsympathetic figure. She's not perfect, just a human being with an extremely difficult childhood and a clearly hereditary bipolar tendency. Reading this book will let readers know what mental illness is like warts and all. It is entirely impossible to really "get" mental illness from the outside in. This book does a stunning job of sharing what living through mental illness is like from the inside out. I would reccomend it to anyone who is involved with a loved one going through these issues and/or professionals who work with patients with mental illness. I can think of no more powerful way of understanding what living with mental illness is like.

Linda is a great writer and a gutsy lady.
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Format: Hardcover
Linda Gray Sexton's struggle with her family legacy of depression and suicide has been no walk in the park. The daughter of the poet Anne Sexton, Linda approaches her subject with bravery and grace. In the earlier memoir, "Searching for Mercy Street", she wrote of her relationship with her mother, whose successful suicide she hoped never to emulate. " Half in Love" traces her subsequent journey including several unsuccessful suicide attempts and the work it took to return from these episodes and reconnect with her world and family.

The author risks taking us deep into her thinking as a bi-polar person slipping toward suicide. She portrays its seductive nature. She explains cutting in a way that makes a certain sense. Her subtle depiction of feeling is equally profound as her health improves.

"Half in Love" is a brave, difficult book by a terrific writer. By honestly confronting her illness and the family members who have been hurt by it, Linda Gray Sexton saves her life. By sharing this experience, she offers readers a deeper understanding of their own.
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Format: Hardcover
My heart tells me that physicians, along with many others, need to read a special kind of memoir. A memoir such as Linda Sexton has written could teach us almost everything we need to know about how more sensitive, passionate, optimistic and helpful we could be if only we took the time to listen in a special way to our patients and their families. She has written a wonderful book for those of us who want to do more than just go through the motions of helping our patients desperately waiting to be heard ...

Our patients for whom she wrote her book need us and other health professionals to have the caring and the empathy to spend more than ten minutes listening to their story.

Believe it or not, "Half In Love," was that kind of a book for me.
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Linda Gray Sexton grew up watching her mother's multiple suicide attempts until she finally succeeded when Linda was in college. Linda makes a pact with her sister and she promises her own children later in life that she will never be like her mother. But the legacy of suicide and her depression ends up being too much for Linda and she eventually tries to commit suicide three times before finally getting the help she needs.

Even though this is a memoir, Half in Love often reads like poetry. Linda Gray Sexton writes beautifully and honestly. I don't know that I've ever encountered a more honest memoir. This is a book that not only served as a way to heal for Linda, but as a way to change the way people think about suicide and depression. This is a view from the inside out and it is remarkable.

Depression is a disease that affects everyone, not just the one who suffers from it, but everyone they are close to as well. Unfortunately, the most common reaction seems to be frustration and anger. I have had those thoughts, I will admit it. But I never will again. Linda Gray Sexton has changed that for me. I can say now that I have a broader perspective on depression and suicide than I did before. Half in Love is beautifully written, heartbreakingly honest and an invaluable as a resource for everyone who has experienced depression or who knows someone who is suffering from depression.

This is a memoir, not a scientific non-fiction book. Linda Gray Sexton does not include many facts about depression or suicide, but instead focuses solely on her own experiences. She documents how this disease was and is for her. Reading this memoir made me eager to learn more about the more scientific and medical/psychological facts about depression.
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