Sights Unseen by Kaye Gibbons

Sights Unseen by Kaye Gibbons

This novel is about bipolar disorder, narrated by the daughter who essentially did not have a mother for twelve years, and then got her back for fifteen years. I very much enjoyed reading the book.

Harriet Barnes, born in 1955, lived in rural North Carolina, with her brother Freddy (six years older than her) , her father (who with his brother, works the fields under the exacting watchfullness of his father, Mr. Barnes) and her mother. It is more accurate to say that the family lived around Maggie Barnes, who cycles between manic phases (having Mr. Barnes to take her clothes shopping, going generally nuts, and not letting Father sleep at night) and depressive phases (not getting out of bed for days at a time). Father splits his time between his framework and watching to make sure his wife does not go out and make a spectacle of herself; Harriet is basically raised by Pearl, who does all of the cooking, cleaning, and raising of children.

The book cycles back between Mother dying, after fifteen years of carefully maintained mental health, when Harriet is twenty-seven, but most of the book is how Harriet always held to the hope as a child that Mother would someday be healed and become a mother to her daughter.

I enjoyed reading this book, not least because, due to my mother’s hospitalizations (she had lupus, and once every year or so would be in the hospital for weeks at a time), I always felt like I had been sent out into the world to find for myself without an instruction manual), I identified with Harriet’s wish to have a normal mother.

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