I admit, what drew me to pick up today’s book for review, Riding Fury Home: A Memoir, was the cover…both the art and the title. When I was growing up there were reruns of a black and white television show on in the morning called “Fury”. It was billed as, “The story of a horse and the boy who loved him.” It seemed to be set in the 1940s or 50s in the west. This cover totally took me back to that show.
Guess what, the book isn’t about a horse despite the title and the 1940′s-’50′s style design. Sigh… But wait, it’s actually quite a tale too and, actually, it’s all true!
Riding Fury Home is the memoir of Chana Wilson (called “Karen” in the book, whenever anyone directly refers to her), and her mother Gloria and their struggle to overcome the depression Gloria suffered and was institutionalized for after she was rejected by her lesbian lover and she attempted to take her own life in 1958. Her husband, Chana’s/Karen’s dad, had her institutionalized immediately. Karen, as I’ll call her from here on (since that’s the way I think of her given the usage in the book), was only 7 when that happened.
You just didn’t come out as a lesbian in 1958. And, psychiatry being what it was then, depressed and suicidal gays and lesbians (and sometimes perfectly mentally competent ones) were often locked away for treatments with psychotropic drugs and for electroshock therapy. That’s the kind of treatment Gloria received.
What makes this a story is that Gloria is released after two years but, her husband, Karen’s father, goes to England for work and leaves the 9 year old with what amounted a spaced out, barely functioning mother. The 9 year old became the caretaker. It was a rocky ride.
As the years pass, and Karen finds out what really caused her mother’s depression and initial suicide attempt (there were others…no doubt due to the drug haze), she comes to some realizations about herself. Both she and her mother eventually embrace lesbianism and feminism and go on quite a ride through the 1970s and beyond.
This is quite an interesting story from a lesbian perspective. We’ve seen stories of psychiatric treatment from a gay male perspective before but that tended to be the whole story. There’s so much more here beyond that. Women coming out of the closet and out of the kitchen, entering the workforce, fighting for rights and fighting to love who they wanted. True, it’s the story of only two women, but the stories of thousands are reflected in it.
This is a long book at nearly 400 pages but one, I assure you, that you’ll finish.