Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide by Linda Gray Sexton

"Depression is a country with no borders."
Linda Gray Sexton grew up with a mother- Pulitzer prize winning poet, Anne Sexton- who repeatedly tried to kill herself, shuffling her two daughters off to various relatives when she hospitalized. Eventually, Anne succeeded, leaving behind a legacy which would severely impact the life of her daughter, a fact discussed in Linda Gray Sexton's second memoir, Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide. After experiencing firsthand the agony of loosing a parent to suicide, Sexton vowed never to follow in her mother's footsteps. Yet at forty-five she found herself in a deep depression, attempting to kill herself multiple times despite the fact that she was a daughter, sister, wife, and most significantly, a mother.

Half in Love is a memoir painful in its details of Sexton's struggle to find mental health and create her own legacy. Although it deals lightly with Sexton's earlier years, specifically her relationship with her mother and the impact the suicide had on her, the focus is on the years after her first memoir Searching for Mercy Street: My Journey Back to My Mother, Anne Sexton which was published in 1994. In fact, despite having published four novels in her earlier years, Half in Love is Sexton's first publication since 1994. In the subsequent years she began, somehow subconsciously, to repeat her mother's life. Like the rest of her family, as well as so many others, Sexton saw her mother's suicide as selfish, as an indication that her daughters were not enough, their love was not enough. Writing about her mother's suicide attempts, Sexton says:
"But to us, her suicide attempts seemed just bids for pity and sympathy: it was better to think she was merely being self-indulgent than to understand she wanted to leave us all for good, or that she in excruciating turmoil."
However once she began to deal with depression and bipolar illness herself , Sexton realized that was not the case. Her pain was so great, suicide seemed to be the only option. The only solution was an extremely long and arduous journey including a combination of the right medication and therapy. In Half in Love, Sexton is not shy about sharing the truth of her illness, including the years she was unable to get out of bed so severe was her depression and the pain she caused her sons who continued to fear for her life. The book provides a raw and blistering look into her pain, it is an honest confession which allows readers the opportunity to take a peak into the dark "rabbit hole" which may lead someone to commit suicide. In Half in Love Sexton deals with the idea that even as much as part of her wanted a normal life, she was still partly in love with the glamour of her mother's existence, "half in love" with the dark demons, and the close relationship they had when she was alive left Sexton almost unwillingly stepping into her mother's shoes.
"Unconsciously, my mother had bequeathed to me two entirely unique legacies, and they were inextricably and mysteriously entwined: the compulsion to create with words, as well as the compulsion to stare down into the abyss of suicide. Both compulsions have been with me for as long as I can remember."
The second legacy left to Sexton, her writing, is obvious in Half in Love, as the memoir is beautifully written and descriptive. As a survivor of suicide herself, Sexton is uniquely posed to provide insight into what leads a person to such extreme actions and what can help be done to prevent repeat attempts. In Sexton's case, it was mere chance that saved her life, but it is a lot of help in the form of medication, therapy, and support from family that has prevented her from trying to take it again. Sexton has done an incredible job of delving into her own painful experiences in a way which forces the reader not to dismiss the legacy of suicide as well as better understand what it is like for an individual forced to confront the kind of demons which Sexton has. Half in Love is an intimate and powerful portrayal of the impact suicide can have not only an individual, but also on those they leave behind, and with it Sexton has written an extremely poignant memoir on an incredibly difficult subject.

Note: This book contains some very graphic descriptions of behaviours like cutting which may be triggering for individuals who have suffered recently.

Release Date: January 11th, 2011
Pages: 336
Overall: 4.5/5
Buy the Book

This review was a part of TLC Book Tours. Click here to read what other tour hosts thought. For the purpose of this review I was provided with a copy of the book which did not require a positive review. The opinions expressed in this post are completely my own. 


  1. Wonderful review -- I'm not especially a fan of darker memoirs like this, but I do love Anne Sexton's poetry and this sounds like an intense but beautifully written book. Thank you for sharing!

  2. This sounds like an intriguing book! I just finished the Girl with the Dragon Tatoo!

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  3. My dad killed himself 3 years ago when I was 24. I'd like to read this book.

  4. Zoe,

    Thanks so much for the incredible review! I was overwhelmed by the way you understood the book and were able to take so much away from it. Readers like you make having written such a difficult book totally worthwhile.

    I hope "Half in Love" is as enlightening for your readers as it seems to have been for you. I can see the review has already reached one who commented on her father's suicide. I am getting scads of email from people who say, this is my story, this is my family's story--people who identify and then thank me for having been willing to go out on the ledge of telling such an intensely personal story.

    To know you have touched someone...that is the whole point of writing.

    Thanks again!
    Linda Sexton

  5. this sounds heavy... tragic... but beautiful.

    ps. i've missed you but have loved your fb comments! :) btw-- i've moved so let me know if you ever need my new address. i hope our letters never stop! :)


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