Cloth $27.50 ISBN: 9780226616643 Published June 2004

The Family Silver

A Memoir of Depression and Inheritance

Sharon O'Brien

Sharon O'Brien

304 pages | 28 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2004
Cloth $27.50 ISBN: 9780226616643 Published June 2004
Finding herself struggling with depression ("like a rude houseguest, coming and going of its own accord"), Sharon O'Brien set out to understand its origins beyond the biochemical explanations and emotional narratives prevailing in contemporary American culture. Her quest for her inheritance took her straight into the pressures and possibilities of American culture, and then to the heart of her family—the generations who shaped and were shaped by one another and their moment in history. In The Family Silver, as O'Brien travels into her family's past, she goes beyond depression to discover courage, poetry, and grace.

A compassionate and engaging writer, O'Brien uses the biographer's methods to understand her family history, weaving the scattered pieces of the past—her mother's memo books, her father's reading journal, family photographs, tombstones, dance cards, hospital records, the family silver—into a compelling narrative. In the lives of her Irish-American relatives she finds that the American values of upward mobility, progress, and the pressure to achieve sparked both desire and depression, following her family through generations, across the sea, from the Irish famine of the 1840s to Harvard Yard in the late 1960s.

"Many people who write stories of depression or other chronic illnesses tell tales of recovery in the upward-mobility sense, the 'once I was ill, but now I am well' formula that we may find appealing, but doesn't match the messiness of our lives," she writes. "Mine is not such a tale. But it is a recovery tale in another sense—a story of salvage, of rescuing stories from silence." Told with humor and honesty, O'Brien's story will captivate all readers who want to know how they, and their families, have been shaped by the past.
Part One - Looking for Elmira
Looking for Elmira
The First Time
The Family Silver
Handsome Dan
Danny Boy
A Nice Irish-Catholic Girl
A Town of Homes
The Bedroom
The Book of Ruth
Departed Acts
No Shrinking Violet
My Mother's Willa Cather
The Aptitude to Fly
The Book of Lists
Part Two - In the Shadow of Harvard
You Don't Always Get What You Want
Between Two Worlds
In the Shadow of Harvard
The Stations of the Cross
Losing It
Getting through the Day
The Great City of Lowell
Letters from London
Depressives in the Lounge
Recovery Stories
You'll Never Work in This Town Again
Order of Dances
Wash Your Way Out
The Bookmark or the Rose
Reading Dickens to My Father
Family Gathering
Elephant Skin
Class of 1927
Part Three - The Emigrant Irish
Remember Skibbereen
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