Even before reading the first words of Resilience: Two Sisters and a Story of Mental Illness, it’s obvious that this is no ordinary memoir. First there’s the cover, with author Jessie Close in the embrace of her sister, actress Glenn Close. Then there are the photos inside, with captions like, “My dad on the porch of our house in the paracommando camp in Zaire.”
It’s been a harrowing ride for Jessie Close, and not just because of her famous sister, or a father who served as personal physician to an African leader, or a family that was swallowed up by a movement known as Moral Rearmament (MRA), whose “Up with People” image hid a darker side that estranged her from her parents. Now 61, she has battled severe bipolar disorder, exacerbated by alcoholism, since her teens.
Resilience is her story, with occasional vignettes from Glenn. It’s quite a journey, with detours to Zaire, Switzerland and India before Close finally settles in Montana. As husbands, houses and bad decisions pile up, it’s painful to read but hard to put down—especially when it becomes clear to Close that her older son, Calen, has inherited the mental illness that runs in the family.
With wealthy ancestors and a trust fund to lean on, Close can afford top-quality mental health care for both herself and her son, although she inexplicably doesn’t receive a diagnosis of bipolar disorder until she is almost 50. Even then, she struggles with suicidal thoughts and only gets her illnesses under control with medicine, sobriety and a revamped lifestyle.
With a title like Resilience, it’s a foregone conclusion that the book will end on a hopeful note—in Close’s words, “a new chapter in my life, one of sobriety, hope and purpose.” With her sister’s encouragement, Close is telling her story to the world in hopes of removing the stigma from mental illness. It’s a story well worth reading.
This article was originally published in the January 2015 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.