Mini-Review: “He Came in with It: a Portrait of Motherhood and Madness,” by Miriam Feldman

He Came in with It: a Portrait of Motherhood and Madness, by Miriam Feldman

I won’t do a full review of this intense and engaging memoir, because I’ve known the author and her family for over thirty years. We lived a hundred feet apart on modest Ridgewood Place for several years, and even when they moved to the far grander Norton Avenue, where most of the story takes place, we were only three blocks apart, and the kids flowed back and forth ceaselessly. I moved myself after a divorce, but was kept up on news by my ex and my son. My son and Nick O’Rourke, the son in Miriam Feldman’s story, were best friends for years, till Nick withdrew deeply into the world of schizophrenia.

Feldman writes well, despite occasional poeticized phrases that may have been urged on her by an editor; however, the sentences are strong, clear, and unaffected, and you are pulled into the story.

And the story is far more than a recounting of the travails she faced in dealing with her beloved son’s illness. Indeed, while this is the sort of book that almost automatically spurs the application of phrases such as “searingly honest” to its cover, in this case I can attest that it is so: this is an immersion into circumstances that relentlessly dismantle the author’s pride and pretensions, and bring her face to face not only with a frightening force of nature in the illness itself, but the limitations of even a powerful woman to force her life into the form she believes she merits. Indeed, Nick’s schizophrenia is only one of the physical and social ills that befall the family; Feldman keeps control of the story despite the obvious strain she has been under for so long. The author does not spare herself in telling this tale.

On the positive side, it’s the story of women’s informal networks and how they helped her save her own sanity while her son’s slipped away.

And it is the biography of her son, thirty-four years old at this writing, a strong, smart, artistic young man battling an enemy within.

If you have any interest in mental illness, in women’s issues, in the value of neighborhood, or just in life as it is, it will be worth your time to read it.

Feldman is a brilliant painter, a damned good writer, and a human being as fragile, in the end, as any of us. This is a worthy book.

Rick Risemberg