Becoming Anna

Anna J. Michener, Author University of Chicago Press $22 (264p) ISBN 978-0-226-52401-6
Institutionalized at 15 by her abusive parents, the author, then known as ""Tiffany,"" was abused for several months by the staff of mental hospitals. Her state-sanctioned treatment consisted of overmedication, physical and emotional intimidation, illegal incarceration and painful criticism from teachers and psychiatric counselors. At the end of that year, when she was surrendered by her mother and taken in by foster parents, Tiffany became Anna. Were this a novel, sympathy for the overwriting, self-sanctifying, pathetic narrator would run awfully thin. Other, tougher kids called her ""Crazy Girl,"" she recalls, ""In a world that had never been anything but oppressive and cruel to any of us, they thought it was crazy for me to still have some innocence, some passion, some caring for other people, and some hope for a better world. They called me crazy with affection. They wanted me to stay that way."" Michener might convince readers that she is not crazy, but it's hard to accept her rosy perception of herself and the demonization of nearly every authority--and parental--figure. Her vague and predictable descriptions of the mental institutions reveal less than a few minutes with One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest: the ""clients"" are generally good, misunderstood; the staff, for the most part, are bad, bitter, soulless sadists. When Michener describes her preinstitutional diaries as ""a rather disorganized mix of fact and fiction, and hardly anything was finished before the next page was talking about something new,"" she could almost be summing up the autobiography. Professional psychologists get paid to listen to desperately anxious remembrances and imaginings, but readers don't. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 09/14/1998
Release date: 09/01/1998
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