In the Jaws of the Black Dogs: A Memoir of Depression

John Bentley Mays, Author HarperCollins Publishers $24 (234p) ISBN 978-0-06-019288-4
Reflecting on a lifetime of chronic depression, Mays, the visual arts critic of Toronto's Globe and Mail, charts his illness with reasoned intelligence and emotional honesty. His chronicle, a bestseller in Canada, begins in the American South, where Mays grew up on a cotton plantation he remembers for its physical beauty and sullen silences. When he was seven, his alcoholic father died (perhaps by murder). He and his mother moved to a nearby city to which he was unable to adjust. Five years later, Mays's mother succumbed to lung cancer. He recalls not weeping, and acknowledges the self-annihilation manifest in his inability to express grief--indeed, suicide beckoned as a sweet possibility. He went to live with his paternal grandparents and was later, in high school, voted most likely to succeed. Mays pursued English studies in college and graduate school, aiming for a career as a scholar, imagining he could sustain himself in a world from which he felt increasingly estranged. In 1968, he attempted to kill himself while he was in a doctoral program, leading to his hospitalization and the first of two courses of therapy--which have enabled him to achieve periods of normality, though the dogs of depression always lurk. A strong religious faith, a solid marriage and his writing career have provided Mays with further emotional support. Though his prose can be so elliptical that some important events and figures (including his wife and step-daughter) slip through the gaps, implicit in Mays's story, as in William Styron's Darkness Visible, is his enduring courage in the face of unrelenting mental illness. (July)
Reviewed on: 06/28/1999
Release date: 07/01/1999
Genre: Nonfiction
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