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Hidden Valley Road
Cover of Hidden Valley Road
Hidden Valley Road
Inside the Mind of an American Family
OPRAH’S BOOK CLUB PICK
#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
 
The heartrending story of a midcentury American family with twelve children, six of them diagnosed with schizophrenia, that became science's great hope in the quest to understand the disease.
 
"Reads like a medical detective journey and sheds light on a topic so many of us face: mental illness." —Oprah Winfrey
 
Named a BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR by The New York TimesThe Washington Post, NPR, TIME, and more
Don and Mimi Galvin seemed to be living the American dream. After World War II, Don's work with the Air Force brought them to Colorado, where their twelve children perfectly spanned the baby boom: the oldest born in 1945, the youngest in 1965. In those years, there was an established script for a family like the Galvins—aspiration, hard work, upward mobility, domestic harmony—and they worked hard to play their parts. But behind the scenes was a different story: psychological breakdown, sudden shocking violence, hidden abuse. By the mid-1970s, six of the ten Galvin boys, one after another, were diagnosed as schizophrenic. How could all this happen to one family?
What took place inside the house on Hidden Valley Road was so extraordinary that the Galvins became one of the first families to be studied by the National Institute of Mental Health. Their story offers a shadow history of the science of schizophrenia, from the era of institutionalization, lobotomy, and the schizophrenogenic mother to the search for genetic markers for the disease, always amid profound disagreements about the nature of the illness itself. And unbeknownst to the Galvins, samples of their DNA informed decades of genetic research that continues today, offering paths to treatment, prediction, and even eradication of the disease for future generations.
With clarity and compassion, bestselling and award-winning author Robert Kolker uncovers one family's unforgettable legacy of suffering, love, and hope.
OPRAH’S BOOK CLUB PICK
#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
 
The heartrending story of a midcentury American family with twelve children, six of them diagnosed with schizophrenia, that became science's great hope in the quest to understand the disease.
 
"Reads like a medical detective journey and sheds light on a topic so many of us face: mental illness." —Oprah Winfrey
 
Named a BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR by The New York TimesThe Washington Post, NPR, TIME, and more
Don and Mimi Galvin seemed to be living the American dream. After World War II, Don's work with the Air Force brought them to Colorado, where their twelve children perfectly spanned the baby boom: the oldest born in 1945, the youngest in 1965. In those years, there was an established script for a family like the Galvins—aspiration, hard work, upward mobility, domestic harmony—and they worked hard to play their parts. But behind the scenes was a different story: psychological breakdown, sudden shocking violence, hidden abuse. By the mid-1970s, six of the ten Galvin boys, one after another, were diagnosed as schizophrenic. How could all this happen to one family?
What took place inside the house on Hidden Valley Road was so extraordinary that the Galvins became one of the first families to be studied by the National Institute of Mental Health. Their story offers a shadow history of the science of schizophrenia, from the era of institutionalization, lobotomy, and the schizophrenogenic mother to the search for genetic markers for the disease, always amid profound disagreements about the nature of the illness itself. And unbeknownst to the Galvins, samples of their DNA informed decades of genetic research that continues today, offering paths to treatment, prediction, and even eradication of the disease for future generations.
With clarity and compassion, bestselling and award-winning author Robert Kolker uncovers one family's unforgettable legacy of suffering, love, and hope.
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  • From the book Prologue

    1972 | Colorado Springs, Colorado

    A brother and sister walk out of their house together, through the patio door that opens out from the family kitchen and into their backyard. They're a strange pair. Donald Galvin is twenty-seven years old with deep-set eyes, his head shaved completely bald, his chin showing off the beginnings of a biblically scruffy beard. Mary Galvin is seven, half his height, with white-blond hair and a button nose.

    The Galvin family lives in the Woodmen Valley, an expanse of forest and farmland nestled between the steep hills and sandstone mesas of central Colorado. Their yard smells of sweet pine, fresh and earthy. Near the patio, juncos and blue jays dart around a rock garden where the family's pet, a goshawk named Atholl, stands guard in a mews their father built years ago. With the little girl leading the way, the sister and brother pass by the mews and climb up a small hill, stepping over lichen-covered rocks they both know by heart.

    There are ten children between Mary and Donald in age—twelve Galvin kids in all; enough, their father enjoys joking, for a football team. The others have found excuses to be as far from Donald as possible. Those not old enough to have moved away are playing hockey or soccer or baseball. Mary's sister, Margaret—the only other girl, and the sibling closest to Mary in age—might be with the Skarke girls next door, or down the road at the Shoptaughs'. But Mary, still in second grade, often has nowhere to go after school but home, and no one to look after her but Donald.

    Everything about Donald confounds Mary, starting with his shaved head and continuing with what he likes most to wear: a reddish brown bedsheet, worn in the style of a monk. Sometimes he completes the outfit with a plastic bow and arrow that his little brothers once played with. In any weather, Donald walks the neighborhood dressed this way, mile after mile, all day and into the night—down their street, the unpaved Hidden Valley Road, past the convent and the dairy farm in the Woodmen Valley, along the shoulders and onto the median strips of highways. He often stops at the grounds of the United States Air Force Academy, where their father once worked, and where many people now pretend not to recognize him. And closer to home, Donald has stood sentry as children play in the yard of the local elementary school, announcing in his soft, almost Irish lilt that he is their new teacher. He only stops when the principal demands that he stay away. In those moments, Mary, a second-grader, is sorrier than ever that her world is so small that everyone knows that she is Donald's sister.

    Mary's mother is well practiced at laughing off moments like these, behaving as if nothing is strange. To do anything else would be the same as admitting that she lacks any real control over the situation—that she cannot understand what is happening in her house, much less know how to stop it. Mary, in turn, has no choice but to not react at all to Donald. She notices how closely both her mother and father monitor all of their children now for warning signs: Peter with his rebellion, Brian and his drugs, Richard getting expelled, Jim picking fights, Michael checking out completely. To complain or cry or show any emotion at all, Mary knows, will send the message that something might be wrong with her, too.

    And the fact is that the days when Mary sees Donald in that bedsheet are better than some of the other days. Sometimes after school, she comes home to find Donald in the middle of an undertaking only he can understand—like transplanting every last piece of furniture out of the house...
About the Author-
  • ROBERT KOLKER is the New York Times bestselling author of Lost Girls, named one of the New York Times' 100 Notable Books and one of Publisher's Weekly's Top Ten Books of 2013. As a journalist, his work has appeared in New York magazine, Bloomberg Businessweek, The New York Times Magazine, Wired, GQ, Oprah, and Men's Journal. He is a National Magazine Award finalist and a recipient of the Harry Frank Guggenheim 2011 Excellence in Criminal Justice Reporting Award from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.
Reviews-
  • Kirkus

    January 15, 2020
    One family's history reveals the mystery of schizophrenia. In a riveting and disquieting narrative, Kolker (Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery, 2013) interweaves a biography of the Galvin family with a chronicle of medicine's treatment of, and research into, schizophrenia. Don and Mimi Galvin had 12 children--10 boys and two girls--born between 1945 and 1965. Religious beliefs--both parents were Catholic--were not the only reason for their fecundity. Mimi seemed to crave the distinction of "being known as a mother who could easily accomplish such a thing." In addition, Kolker speculates, the children may have assuaged an abiding feeling of abandonment, including by a husband more focused on his career than his family. Mimi was a perfectionist who controlled every aspect of the children's lives: chores, enriching after-school activities, and feelings, which she believed should best be repressed. Insisting that they were raising a model family, the Galvins refused to acknowledge problems, such as violent fights among the older brothers, which the parents dismissed as merely roughhousing. The other brothers felt lost, ignored, "less than safe, treated like a number and not a person." The eldest, Donald, was the first to exhibit signs of schizophrenia, with bizarre behavior that repeatedly landed him in mental hospitals; soon, five brothers followed, all with the same diagnosis, manifested somewhat differently, including sibling sexual abuse. Meanwhile, Mimi pretended everything was normal--until she could not hide the family's suffering. With each diagnosis, "she became more of a prisoner--confined by secrets, paralyzed by the power that the stigma of mental illness held over her." Kolker deftly follows the psychiatric, chemical, and biological theories proposed to explain schizophrenia and the various treatments foisted upon the brothers. Most poignantly, he portrays the impact on the unafflicted children of the brothers' illness, an oppressive emotional atmosphere, and the family's festering secrets. By the 1980s, the Galvins became subjects of researchers investigating a genetic basis for the illness; those extensive medical records inform this compelling tale. A family portrait of astounding depth and empathy.

    COPYRIGHT(2020) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from February 24, 2020
    Journalist Kolker (Lost Girls) delivers a powerful look at schizophrenia and the quest to understand it. He focuses on a much-studied case: that of Colorado couple Don and Mimi Galvin’s 12 children, born between 1945 and 1965, six of whom were diagnosed with the illness. Drawing on extensive interviews with family members and close acquaintances, he creates a taut and often heartbreaking narrative of the Galvins’ travails, which included a murder-suicide and sexual abuse. Their story also allows Kolker to convey how ideas about schizophrenia’s cause changed over the 20th century, from theories blaming controlling and emotionally repressive mothers (a type epitomized by Mimi Galvin) to views of the disease as biologically determined—a hypothesis researchers hoped to use the family to substantiate. In one especially moving passage, Kolker catches up in 2017 with one of the Galvin girls’ daughters in college, where she is interning in a neuroscience lab with hopes of researching schizophrenia. Kolker concludes that while “biology is destiny, to a point,” everyone is “a product of the people who surround us—the people we’re forced to grow up with, and the people we choose to be with later.” This is a haunting and memorable look at the impact of mental illness on multiple generations.

  • Library Journal

    Starred review from March 1, 2020

    Delving into the mysterious roots of a misunderstood condition, Kolker (Lost Girls) tells the story of the Galvin family, who lived on Hidden Valley Road, and their role in a scientific discovery. Kolker describes how, after discovering that six of the 12 Galvin children were diagnosed with schizophrenia, medical researchers began collecting their genetic material in hopes of determining the biology of the disease. The Galvin clan comes alive in Kolker's eloquent telling: distant parents Don and Mimi, who wanted to be seen as a model military family; the six affected sons, many of whom spent time in and out of mental hospitals; and two daughters, who were all but abandoned by their parents. Alternating chapters movingly detail the family's tragedy and despair, including the ways the illness manifests, along with the study of illness as a science in order to determine its genetic makeup. Throughout, Kolker effectively shows how illness impacts each relative, especially those who live alongside it. VERDICT Kolker masterfully combines scientific intrigue with biographical sketches, allowing readers to feel as if they are right there with the Galvins as researchers examine their genes in the quest for answers.--Stephanie Sendaula, Library Journal

    Copyright 2020 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    Starred review from February 15, 2020
    Best-selling, award-winning journalist Kolker (Lost Girls, 2013) takes a bracing look at the history of the diagnosis and treatment of schizophrenia by exploring the staggering tragedies of the Galvin family. In this stunning, riveting chronicle crackling with intelligence and empathy, he recounts how, during the 1970s, six of the dozen Galvin children were diagnosed as schizophrenic, each suffering varying degrees of violence and horror associated with that illness. Through copious interviews and extensive research, Kolker is able to bring readers into the family's seemingly perfect middle-class life. With a determinedly busy and blissfully distracted father (his obsession with falconry was often more important to him than his children) and a hyperfocused mother firmly attached to her domestic ideals, the environment was rife for secrets and hidden abuse. Amidst detailed descriptions of sibling rivalries and fights that terrorized the younger children, Kolker illustrates how the Galvins fell to pieces. Into this gripping personal tale he weaves the larger history of schizophrenia research and how the family eventually came to the attention of scientists striving to find a cure. Kolker tackles this extraordinarily complex story so brilliantly and effectively that readers will be swept away. An exceptional, unforgettable, and significant work that must not be missed.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2020, American Library Association.)

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