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This Close to Happy: A Reckoning with Depression Hardcover – February 7, 2017
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"[Merkin narrates] with insight, grace and excruciating clarity, in exquisite and sometimes darkly humorous prose . . . For all its highly personal focus, [This Close to Happy] is an important addition to the literature of mental illness." ―Andrew Solomon, The New York Times Book Review (cover review)
"I will not be the last to thank Ms. Merkin for resisting this desire [to die] long enough to give us what is one of the most accurate, and therefore most harrowing, accounts of depression to be written in the last century . . . Ms. Merkin speaks candidly and beautifully about aspects of the human condition that usually remain pointedly silent." ―John Kaag, Wall Street Journal
"Wry, self-aware . . . a work of lacerating intelligence about a condition that intellect cannot heal." ―The New Yorker
"[A] triumph on many levels . . . As insightful and beautifully written as it is brave . . . This Close to Happy earns a place among the canon of books on depression . . . books that offer comfort to fellow depressives and elucidation for those lucky enough to have dodged its scourge." ―Heller McAlpin, Washington Post
"[A] stunning self portrait" ―Christian Lorentzen, New York
“A hybrid of memoir, case study, and confession, which joins such classics as Kay Redfield Jamison’s An Unquiet Mind and Andrew Solomon’s The Noonday Demon in the contemporary literature of depression. . . Merkin has written [a book] that will illuminate, challenge, and possibly even console.” ―Adam Kirsch, Tablet
"[This Close to Happy is] a testament to Merkin's commitment to capturing the grim distortions that depression can produce. . . This Close to Happy is more than a memoir of mental illness. Merkin is a good writer―perceptive, provocative, relentlessly interrogative of her own experience―and despite her difficult subject matter, she does, in this memoir, what good writers do: she sends urgent, cogent dispatches from another world, a protracted battlefield that we might not otherwise know about." ―Lisa Fetchko, Los Angeles Review of Books
"[A] compelling chronicle . . . Merkin's work is unique in describing the mundane burden of a deeply felt and closely observed life lived with depression . . . [H]er account of depression is both personal, literary and, at the same time, existential." ―Tom Teicholz, Forbes
“Merkin is a wonderful writer whose keen eye for detail and human foibles enables her to brilliantly light her subject. . . . In page after page, she delivers elegant, evocative prose.” ―Psychology Today
"This Close to Happy is as illuminating and hard to put down as it is painful." ―People
"Merkin is a fine stylist . . . She has at her disposal wide-ranging allusions, and she draws on poetry with a charming ease, a frankness that assumes her reader’s sophistication, even as she capably holds the reader’s hand and clarifies the relevance of a particular reference.” ―Forward
"Daphne Merkin exhibits shocking honesty in allowing readers to look into her journey. . . Her depth of writing experience on the topic comes through in emotion-packed prose . . . This book offers the education necessary for readers need to follow depression as it rises and falls in one woman’s life, as well as in the lives of thousands of others." ―Wyatt Massey, America Magazine
“Merkin’s deeply intimate account of living with clinical depression is illuminating, heartbreaking, and powerfully written. With lively prose and shrewd observations . . . Merkin’s exploration into her complicated yet unconditional devotion to her mother is rendered with compassion and profound perception. Merkin eloquently blends the personal with the researched; her intellectual tenacity and emotional rawness impress as much as they entertain. This book is a wonderful addition to literature about the unrelenting battle against depression.” ―Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Dark thoughts hover over virtually every page of this mesmerizing memoir, and yet there is also the very real possibility of hope. . . Merkin’s exceptional book belongs on the same shelf as such classics as William Styron’s Darkness Visible (1990) and Kay Redfield Jamison’s An Unquiet Mind (1995).” ―Booklist (starred review)
“[Merkin] has a signature method to her writing, one that exuberantly crosshatches high- and lowbrow, and one that reveals and protects in equal measure.” ―Bookforum
“Opening This Close to Happy was like getting a long letter from my best friend at sleepaway camp. I had no idea it was this bad for you, was my first thought, and then, we have both been so paralyzed by grief. This is why we all feel so lonely right now―the longing, the depression, the comedy of it all, wrapped up in a story about sex and Judaism, our mothers. I felt so whole when snuggling up alone with Merkin’s brilliant, full-of-feeling masterpiece. I flew through it and hated to let go when it ended.” ―Jill Soloway
“Fierce, clear-eyed, and beautifully honest, Daphne Merkin’s is an essential voice. This Close to Happy, a lucid and elegantly written account of her lifelong struggles withdepression, unsettles and illuminates in equal measure. This is an important book.” ―Claire Messud
“If the face presented to the world is a mask to protect ourselves, Daphne Merkin bravely removes hers, revealing the truth of herself, courageously exploring, seeking―and sometimes even finding―the hope that glimmers at the end of the tunnel. Please read as soon as possible.” ―Gloria Vanderbilt
“This beautifully written tale of Daphne Merkin’s depressive demons is by far the most accurate and human account of depression and its impact that I have ever read. I highly recommend it, both to those in the mental health professions and to those who care about the suffering of their loved ones.” ―Glen O. Gabbard, M.D.
“The greatness of this book is in the way Merkin takes the measure of the adversary.” ―Peter Sacks
“D. W. Winnicott wrote that depression is the fog over the battlefield. In this extraordinarily lucid and moving book, Daphne Merkin illuminates the dark and desperate battle that depression can be. This is a book for all those who know nothing about depression and for those who know too much.” ―Adam Phillips
“This Close to Happy belongs on the shelf with William Styron's Darkness, Visible and Andrew Solomon's The Noonday Demon. It brings a stunningly perceptive voice to the forefront of the conversation about depression, one that is both reassuring and revelatory.” ―Carol Gilligan, author of In a Different Voice
"This Close to Happy is honest, fearless in the way we have come to expect from Daphne Merkin, and, as a bonus, frankly informative. From Merkin we get the inside view of navigating a chronic psychiatric illness to a realistic outcome. As she writes, 'the opposite of depression is not a state of unimaginable happiness, but a state of relative all-right-ness.' For some, that insight alone will speak volumes. Her candor discussing the fears, tribulations, and triumphs of a lifetime of treatment will be valuable for anyone who loves someone with depression but makes necessary reading for the mental health professionals on the other side of the couch." ―Harold S. Koplewicz, M.D., President, Child Mind Institute
About the Author
Daphne Merkin is a former staff writer for The New Yorker and a regular contributor to Elle. Her writing frequently appears in The New York Times, Bookforum, Departures, Travel + Leisure, W, Vogue, Tablet Magazine, and other publications. Merkin has taught writing at the 92nd Street Y, Marymount College, and Hunter College. Her previous books include Enchantment, which won the Edward Lewis Wallant Award for best novel on a Jewish theme, and two collections of essays, Dreaming of Hitler and The Fame Lunches, which was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. She lives in New York City.
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Now there’s a book you don’t want to read. And Daphne Merkin, the author of that book, understands. Clinical depression, she writes, is a “sadness that no one seems to want to talk about in public, not even in this Age of Indiscretion.”
So let’s start again. With behavior. Your behavior.
Ever sleep late, get out of bed, decide there’s nothing you want to do — and return to bed?
Ever go to a party, delight others with your wit and charm, and come home feeling like a total loser?
Ever feel that sadness and despair sit on your shoulder, like invisible demons that no one but you can see and feel?
Many of us feel that way… once in a while. When you feel that way most of the time, you’re seriously depressed. There’s nothing romantic about that — Merkin calls it an “unexotically normal psychological albatross.”
Here’s the weird part: All her life Daphne Merkin has been a productive, accomplished writer. She won a poetry prize at Barnard when she was 20, was published in the Times at 21. Her byline has appeared in a million magazines. Her books are highly praised. As is “This Close to Happy.” Sixteen years in the writing, it is a brisk 288 pages of personal revelation and the kind of general perception that gives you information you didn’t know about yourself.
Daphne Merkin’s accomplishments are more impressive when you discover what her childhood was like. She was the fourth of six children, the third girl. Her parents were rich; they lived in a big apartment on Park Avenue. But they didn’t live rich because they were refugees. Her father was remote, and most of her mother’s family that didn’t die in the Holocaust lived in reduced circumstances in Israel. Her family life was thus a basket of issues. Her mother, Merkin writes, “was only nice to me when I was sick.” And she got seriously sick at 8: “I was wholly unwilling to attend school, out of some combination of fear and separation anxiety.” That led to her first hospitalization. There would be more.
This was her mother: “‘Your tears don’t move me,’ she’d tell me repeatedly when I cried as a little girl. And she’d warn, ‘You’ll feel my five fingers in your face,’ right before slapping me.” Her nanny was no better. When Daphne fought with her brother, she began “banging my head against the wall.” Decades later, when she rushed home to itell her mother that a piece of fiction she’d written had been accepted by The New Yorker, the response was “Your nose looks big when you smile.”
And yet her mother — narcissist, tyrant, abuser — is the major character in Merkin’s life story. And her therapy. And in an all-pervasive unhappiness that makes an early exit appealing: “I am fascinated by people who have the temerity to bring down the curtain on their own suffering, who don’t hang around moping in hopes of a brighter day.”
Are you thinking: “Get over yourself, girlfriend. You are rich and privileged and you have a jewel of a daughter and your friends love you.”
You think she doesn’t know that? “I know I lead a privileged existence, I know there are people hanging on by a thread in Haiti and the Congo and elsewhere across the globe, I know, I know, I know… But I still can’t get out of being me.”
And she knows the trouble with therapy; you can understand the past, but you can’t change it. And the trouble with medication; you can dull the pain, but you can’t erase it. So what’s the point of decades of navel gazing? And the constant adjustment of meds?
This is the point: “I got a letter from a woman saying, ‘Had my sister read your piece, maybe she would have gone to the hospital and not committed suicide.’ I feel like I write for people like this. I hope that doesn’t sound grandiose.”
It’s been eight years since her last stint in a hospital. The book’s final sentence: “Whoever thought I’d be this close to happy?” Hang in, girlfriend.
Most recent customer reviews
Daphne came across as very self absorbed. She had a cold , awful mother,but many people do.Read more