Anatomy of Melancholy

Andrew Solomon: a world-traveling flaneur of despair
photo: Pak Fung Wong
Andrew Solomon: a world-traveling flaneur of despair

Details

The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression
By Andrew Solomon
Scribner, 571 pp., $28
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Unholy Ghost: Writers on Depression
Edited by Nell Casey
William Morrow, 299 pp., $23
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Perhaps Casey's most intriguing experiment is her inclusion of three sets of "companion pieces": an excerpt from William Styron's justifiably praised Darkness Visible and an essay by his wife, Rose; linked contributions by poet Chase Twitchell and her husband, novelist Russell Banks; and essays by the editor and her sister Maud Casey. To read two sides of a breakdown seems terrifically promising, but sadly, it doesn't really pay off. Though Banks's account of empathically "catching" his wife's depression has some powerful moments, none of these essays stick to the bone. Still, despite these flaws, the book is worth reading—both for the insights and for a few exceptional pieces. Together, the two volumes (Solomon's encyclopedic, Casey's episodic) form interesting companion pieces of their own.

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