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Hillbilly Gothic: A Memoir of Madness and Motherhood


"My family has a grand tradition. After a woman gives birth, she goes mad. I thought that I would be the one to escape." So begins Adrienne Martini's candid, compelling, and darkly humorous history of her family's and her own experiences with depression and postpartum syndrome.

Illuminating depression from the inside, Martini delves unflinchingly into her own breakdown and institutionalization and traces the multigenerational course of this devastating problem. Moving back and forth between characters and situations, she vividly portrays the isolation -- geographical and metaphorical -- of the Appalachia of her forebears and the Western Pennsylvania region where she grew up. She also weaves in the stories of other women, both contemporary and historic, who have dealt with postpartum depression in all its guises, from fleeting "baby blues" to full-blown psychosis.

Serious as her subject is, Martini's narrative is unfailingly engaging and filled with witty, wry observations on the complications of new motherhood: "It's like getting the best Christmas gift ever, but Santa decided to kick the crap out of you before you unwrapped it." New mothers and those who have struggled with parenthood -- whether or not they dealt with depression -- will find affirmation in this story of triumph, of escape from a difficult legacy, of hope for others, and of the courage to have another baby.


Publishers Weekly : Martini, a journalist and college professor, summons her blackest comedic chops to rehash her free-fall into postpartum depression -- and the newfound understanding of her own upbringing that buoys her back up. Still mired in the oppressive Appalachia that chafed at her in childhood, she checks herself into the Knoxville psychiatric hospital shortly after giving birth, acquiescing to the "hillbilly Gothic patchwork" of suicides and manic-depression that scourge her family history. As her newborn daughter battles jaundice, her mother hovers intrusively as she awaits the mystical ability to breast-feed; Martini ponders her maternal fitness with a panicked despair nimbly rendered with dry humor and candid self-appraisal. Her misery, so jarringly at odds with the "bundle of joy" in her arms, throws open a window on her own mother's severe depression, helping Martini to make peace with her family and its legacies. Unflinching honesty, mordant wit, and verbal flair (she comes apart "like a wet tissue" after giving birth) save this memoir from soggy self-pity. In its humor and empathy, it's a nonjudgmental resource for the thousands of mothers battling the "baby blues."


Adrienne Martini, a former editor for Knoxville, Tennessee's Metro Pulse , is now an award-winning freelance writer and college teacher. She lives in Oneonta, New York, with her husband, Scott, and children, Maddy and Cory.


Along with being a full-time wife and mother and a part-time college instructor, Adrienne Martini writes reviews of science fiction for Bookslut.com . "Is science fiction your favorite genre?"

"Yes, it is. The more 'busty babe in space' the cover, the happier I am. There are a couple of writers right now who are doing some really interesting stuff and playing with the genre, but I read it to escape."

"Do you ever review memoir?"

"I'm not a big memoir reader." She scans her bookshelves as she talks, "I really don't read that many of them. Anne Lamott's Operating Instructions is one of my all-time favorite books, but I've just never enjoyed the genre. A lot of times it feels like whatever they're revealing doesn't speak to me, or I just don't care because it doesn't seem like that big a thing.

"I think books like Prozac Nation and A Million Little Pieces have spoiled it in a way. 'Let me write about my depression and inflate it. Let me write about my drug addiction and inflate that.' It just doesn't seem real, somehow."

"Given the way you feel about memoir, how did you approach Hillbilly Gothic?"

"I never set out to write a memoir. Before I had my daughter, if you had asked me what kind of book I was going to write, I would have said I wanted to write the great American space opera, which is a weird little sub-genre of science fiction.

"I think not reading a lot of memoir may have helped. I worked for newspapers for 10 or 11 years. That teaches you a lot about the idea of story and how to tell a story. I approached the book like a journalist. I just wanted to tell the story."

"What was the most difficult part of your story to write?"

"I think the stuff about my father's mother was the hardest to nail down because I hadn't dealt with a lot of it. I didn't realize how much emotion I had invested in it, until one day when I was sitting in front of the computer writing away and suddenly realized that I was crying."

When Adrienne was a freshman in college, she came home for a break to find that her grandmother had attempted suicide and was institutionalized.

"Writing about the psych ward that she was on -- I hadn't realized what my mind had done with the details. When I went to describe the place and asked myself how it really looked, I couldn't come up with it. It had become, to me, something very high-gothic and Poe-esque."

"How did the people you grew up around respond to mental illness?"

"My husband and I have a theory that when my father's mother finally dies, we won't find out until a week later because nobody will want to talk about it and be the one to share the bad news. We'll go to Pittsburgh for Christmas and ask 'Where's Grandma?' and they'll say, 'Oh, didn't we tell you?' Nobody wants to be the one to talk about unpleasantness."

"Is it stoicism or is it repression?"

"I think it's both. I think a lot of it is that you don't want to talk about things that are stigmatized. For many of them, being mentally ill was just a question of lacking moral fiber. It's not that there's something physically or chemically wrong, you're just weak.

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