April 13, 2016, Review by Lois C. Henderson,
Joseph McBride, an American film historian, biographer, screenwriter, and professor in the Cinema Department at San Francisco State University, has now brought out a coming-of-age memoir in which he relates the psychological trauma that he endured growing up in a dysfunctional Catholic home, resulting in his incarceration in the Milwaukee County Hospital. While there, he encountered the woman who was to rouse him from his intoxication with his pubescent self to what was the first notable romance in his life.
The Broken Places: A Memoir is both poignant and frustrating at times, as one witnesses a highly gifted individual succumbing to the imposed guilty conscience to which anyone growing up in a Catholic environment is likely to fall prey, especially when compliance to the prescriptions of such an upbringing is more an almost inevitable response to parental and educational coercion than it is a matter of willing and active pursuance of a deeply held faith. The relationship that Joe develops with a half-Native American, half-Irish fellow patient is described in gritty emotional and physical detail, so that The Broken Places is most definitely not for the prudish―McBride’s attitude towards Catholicism also changes in the course of the book, so that it is likely to raise more questions than answers as far as the pursuance of faith goes. Similarly, the author’s portrayal of institutional life paints such places as being less conducive to the encouragement of the mental health of those who are resident there than it is a way of protecting them from the outside world, and the outside world from them.
That McBride is extremely erudite is shown by the many different works to which he refers throughout the memoir, and of which he clearly has first-hand knowledge. In fact, his university training has seemed to have less impact on him than has his personal reading agenda. The numerous allusions that he makes to his own writing experience should prove interesting to other authors, added to which his parents’ relationship with each other, which was draining to both of them, in the light of them both being journalists, is likely to elicit much interest from fellow reporters.
A key component of the memoir also comes in the form of writing, from his admittance reports to a psychiatric unit, to a letter written to McBride by Marty Parnelli, a New York-based public relations colleague of his mother. Opening it out of “sheer boredom,” little does the author realize at the time how pivotal the empathy that is expressed towards him by this kind and generous man will be to spurring him on to assume his position as a fully fledged young individual who is capable of accepting responsibility for his own standing in the broader society, as well as in his more intimate personal surroundings.
The Broken Places: A Memoir is a poignant and moving coming-of-age memoir that anyone who has ever been affected by mental illness, especially in the young adult, would do well to read. Bibliotherapists are likely to find the text useful for any mental health clients who are struggling to come to terms with the shortcomings and strictures in their own family backgrounds. Overall, this is a very positive work, and comes thoroughly recommended.