This novel begins in 1929 when eighteen year old Clara falls in love with an Italian immigrant. Her wealthy, controlling and overbearing father immediately tries to marry her off to someone “suitable.” Clara refuses and is immediately bundled off to a “genteel home for nervous invalids.”Willard Insane Asylum.”
What I found extremely troubling in this book was the fact that not only did Clara’s father never speak to her again, but neither did her mother! No one ever visited her. She got no mail.
Additionally the institution had absolutely no accountability, and seemed to be staffed with the most perverse doctors and brutal nurses and amoral orderlies. Clara’s life was a living hell, and many inmates who actually were schizophrenic, autistic or paranoid were treated even worse. The sheets, clothes, towels and blankets were seldom clean. The food was bland, boring and at a starvation level. The “treatments” of ice baths, isolation, insulin-induced coma and electroshock therapy were shocking to say the least.
Along with Clara’s story there are alternating chapters of Izzy’s story. She is a foster kid nearing her eighteenth birthday and the time is 1995. The two stories converge when Izzy’s foster mother asks if she wants to help with a project to catalogue items from a condemned asylum.
This is NOT a feel good read! It is, however, enlightening and to think it was that horrific in the 1950s and ’60s.
The Plum Tree
Insulin shock therapy was a form of psychiatric treatment in which patients were repeatedly injected with large doses of insulin in order to produce daily comas. It was used extensively in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s.