Cover image for Unholy ghost : writers on depression
Unholy ghost : writers on depression
Casey, Nell, 1971-
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Morrow, [2001]

Physical Description:
ix, 299 pages ; 24 cm
Introduction / Kay Redfield Jamison -- A delicious placebo / Virginia Hefferman -- Toys in the attic : an ars poetica under the influence / Russell Banks -- One cheer for melancholy / Susanna Kaysen -- Heaven and nature / Edward Hoagland -- Poodle bed / Darcey Steinke -- From Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen / Larry McMurtry -- Noontime / Lauren Slater -- Fading to gray / Lee Stringer -- From Darkness visible / William Styron -- Strands / Rose Styron -- An unwelcome career / David Karp -- Melancholy and the muse / Ann Beattie -- Ghost in the house / Donald Hall -- Writing the wrongs of identity / Meri Nana-Ama Danquah -- On living behind bars / Nancy Mairs -- From The savage god / A. Alvarez -- Planet No / Lesley Dormen -- A melancholy of mine own / Joshua Wolf Shenk -- The legacy / Martha Manning -- Wish you were here / Nell Casey -- A better place to live / Maud Casey.
Added Author:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
RC537 .U546 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
RC537 .U546 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
RC537 .U546 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Unholy Ghost is a unique collection of essays about depression that, in the spirit of William Styron's Darkness Visible, finds vivid expression for an elusive illness suffered by more than one in five Americans today. Unlike any other memoir of depression, however, Unholy Ghost includes many voices and depicts the most complete portrait of the illness. Lauren Slater eloquently describes her own perilous experience as a pregnant woman on antidepressant medication. Susanna Kaysen, writing for the first time about depression since Girl, Interrupted, criticizes herself and others for making too much of the illness. Larry McMurtry recounts the despair that descended after his quadruple bypass surgery. Meri Danquah describes the challenges of racism and depression. Ann Beattie sees melancholy as a consequence of her writing life. And Donald Hall lovingly remembers the "moody seesaw" of his relationship with his wife, Jane Kenyon.

The collection also includes an illuminating series of companion pieces. Russell Banks's and Chase Twichell's essays represent husbandand-wife perspectives on depression; Rose Styron's contribution about her husband's struggle with melancholy is paired with an excerpt from William Styron's Darkness Visible; and the book's editor, Nell Casey, juxtaposes her own essay about seeing her sister through her depression with Maud Casey's account of this experience. These companion pieces portray the complicated bond -- a constant grasp for mutual understandingforged by depressives and their family members.

With an introduction by Kay Redfield Jamison, Unholy Ghost allows the bewildering experience of depression to be adequately and beautifully rendered. The twenty-two stories that make up this book will offer solace and enlightenment to all readers.

Author Notes

Nell Casey's work has appeared in Elle, Mirabella, Salon, and the New York Times Book Review. She is a 2000-2001 Carter Center mental health journalism fellow. She is also on the board of Stories at the Moth, a nonprofit storytelling organization. She lives in New York City

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Among mental illnesses, clinical depression seems one of the least understood. It is the real "closet" disease that can and does keep many of its sufferers hidden from public view and often from help as well. With suicide on the rise, especially among young adults and the elderly, it behooves us all to take a look at this disease from the view of those who know it well--the depressed and their caregivers. The writers in this collection are the ideal group to describe the psychological pain that makes the simple acts of daily living seem insurmountable. Larry McMurtry recounts that after quadruple bypass surgery he lost the ability to read for simple pleasure. In an excerpt from Darkness Visible, William Styron has a problem with the very word depression, preferring the "melancholia" that haunts his novels, such as Sophie's Choice. Rose Styron then describes what it is like to live with someone who is under a constant cloud. And A. Alvarez's excerpt from The Savage God reminds us that to many depressives death seems the surest cure. He says, "I have to admit that I am a failed suicide." The book ends with the paired entries of two sisters, Nell and Maud Casey. Nell is an uneasy witness to Maud's struggles with maniac depression and many institutionalizations. Then Maud herself provides a knowledgeable if heartbreaking tour in and out of the grips of deep depression. These vivid, readable essays will provide insight to depression sufferers, mates, and caregivers. --Marlene Chamberlain

Publisher's Weekly Review

The recipient of a Carter Center fellowship for mental health journalism, Casey has compiled a widely varied collection in which authors reckon with their personal experience of depression the "unholy ghost" to which poet Jane Kenyon famously referred. Well-known writers such as Donald Hall and Ann Beattie rub shoulders with talented newcomers like Maud Casey and Joshua Wolf Shenk in pieces that alternate between startling eloquence and the kind of vague, self-indulgent writing that turns some readers away from memoirs. Lee Stringer concludes her contribution with the revelation that "perhaps what we call depression isn't really a disorder at all, but an alarm of sorts, alerting us that something is undoubtedly wrong," while Lesley Dormen resorts to cliches ("My heart pumped dread"). Among the most engaging essays are Rose Styron's response to husband William Styron's Darkness Visible, in which she writes about comic moments that her husband, in the throes of depression, was too blue to appreciate. Responding to spouse Chase Twichell's essay, novelist Russell Banks writes that he has "learned to feel for my wife and to avoid feeling with her." As a whole, the collection is a valuable contribution to the field of depression studies, and will lend some insight and cheer to those struggling with this little-understood condition. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

This anthology will never earn a spot in library "Fast Fun Reads" displays, but given the number of people who suffer from depression and those who live with or love them, it probably deserves a place on most library shelves. Editor Casey has pulled together 22 contemporary pieces, some previously published, from different voices and perspectives, all trying to understand this devastating but elusive illness. The names you would expect are here: William Styron, Jane Kenyon, Susannah Kaysen, and Larry McMurtry, among others, with an introduction by Kay Redfield Jamison. Of particular interest are the companion pieces: Donald Hall's take on his wife, Jane Kenyon; Rose Styron on her husband; Russell Banks on his wife, Chase Twitchell; and editor Casey on her sister Maud. The dual perspective of experienced and witnessed depression is enlightening and at times frightening. Perhaps this volume should come with a warning label, for surely reading about depression can be depressing. The best of these pieces, though, like Kenyon's poems and William Styron's excerpt, overcome that pitfall with the power of their art. Recommended for public libraries. Mary Paumier Jones, Westminster P.L., CO (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Jane Kenyon excerptKay Redfield JamisonVirginia HeffernanChase TwichellRussell BanksSusanna KaysenEdward HoaglandDarcey SteinkeLarry McMurtryLauren SlaterLee StringerWilliam StyronRose StyronDavid KarpAnn BeattieDonald HallMeri Nana-Ama DanquahNancy MairsA. AlvarezLesley DormenJoshua Wolf ShenkMartha ManningNell CaseyMaud Casey
Epigraphp. xi
Acknowledgmentsp. xiii
Introductionp. 1
A Delicious Placebop. 8
Toys in the Attic: An Ars Poetica Under the Influencep. 21
Bodies in the Basement: An Ars Poetica with Attitudep. 29
One Cheer for Melancholyp. 38
Heaven and Naturep. 44
Poodle Bedp. 60
From Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queenp. 67
Noontimep. 75
Fading to Grayp. 105
from Darkness Visiblep. 114
Strandsp. 126
An Unwelcome Careerp. 138
Melancholy and the Musep. 149
Ghost in the Housep. 162
Writing the Wrongs of Identityp. 173
On Living Behind Barsp. 181
from The Savage Godp. 214
Planet Nop. 229
A Melancholy of Mine Ownp. 242
The Legacyp. 256
Wish You Were Herep. 270
A Better Place to Livep. 281
Contributorsp. 294