Well, damn. The true story of the Galvin family is as mind blowing as it is tragic. Quick note: I conduct Pre-Sentence investigations for the Court. Family of origin and mental health is always a big part to research for the report. These are serious crimes I cover, and at the end of the report there is an evaluative analysis that needs to be prepared so that my sentencing recommendation is supported. And it takes a meticulous review of records, all of them confidential, to complete each report. I’ve done thousands of reports. That said, Robert Kolker puts me to shame. An excellent writer and researcher, I’m not sure anyone else could have told the story about the family on Hidden Valley Road. Patience, attention to detail, and understanding from Kolker are evident. And a wealth of material that is so organized and presented so well, it helps keep the reader stay engaged (and not confused!).
Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family is about midcentury American family living in Colorado Springs, CO made up of twelve children, six of whom were diagnosed with schizophrenia (notably, all boys). The family became an important sample for researchers investigating a genetic origin for schizophrenia. The family matriarch is, at first, reluctant to admit there is a problem but eventually has no choice but to acknowledge that she has more than just a kooky family. The patriarch is an overachieving provider, but fairly absent figure, in the lives of the children. Both parents, and eventually their oldest son, Donald, take a liking to working with birds of prey. I couldn’t help but note the irony that the parents of schizophrenic children were also falconers. Falconry is a breaking-in of sorts, a control over another, and a way to have someone with less power than you do what you want them to do and act how you want them to act. Not so for children with one of the most difficult disorders to manage and treat. While schizophrenia manifests differently for each patient, there is often the presence of anger, hallucinations, delusions of grandeur, paranoia, religious obsessions, and a difficulty coping with rejection. Worse, many don’t want to take their medications. A person who is accustomed to the cooperation of a falcon has a rude awakening when it comes to a child, especially a mentally ill one. Unlike a falcon, a person with schizophrenia has their own road to travel, and your plans for him or her don’t mean sh*t. Acceptance, without the enabling of abusive behavior, is the name of the game.
On a personal note, I’ll say schizophrenia can be very scary. And not only for the person afflicted, but to those around them. I’ve seen and been at the end of extremely unhinged and paranoid behavior from probationers. And the harassment can be relentless. They already distrust the government and are convinced there is a conspiracy against them. That said, there were many times throughout this book I said “been there”. And I’m sure it was for other readers as well. It makes you realize how pervasive the disease is, and the commonalities those afflicted have. I cannot imagine what it was like for the children in the family who didn’t have the disease. How terrifying some days must have been for them. And for those young patients that suffer, there are no words.
I think most people that pick up a book of this kind know what to expect but, just in case, be warned that there are a lot of triggering events within these pages. You name it, it happened in this family. Rape, molestation, homicide, suicide, animal cruelty, and more. And there is also some enabling from the matriarch that may anger you.
That said, this is quite a story of survival and a must-read.
Rating: 5/5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️