Sunday, August 25, 2013

Thirty Rooms to Hide In: Insanity, Addiction, and Rock 'n' Roll in the Shadow of the Mayo Clinic Review

Thirty Rooms to Hide In: Insanity, Addiction, and Rock 'n' Roll in the Shadow of the Mayo Clinic

by Luke Longstreet Sullivan


Luke Sullivan is one of six sons of Dr. Charles Roger Sullivan, who led the Mayo Clinic Orthopedic Surgery section in the 1950s and -60s. He chronicles the odyssey of his family as Dr. Sullivan descends slowly but surely into the nightmare of alcoholism, dragging his wife, Mary, and their children through the madness and horror. This is a brutally honest narrative of growing up in the insanity that develops around an alcoholic parent. The medical community's "knowledge" of alcoholism then was based on a lack of information, false assumptions and the societal paradigm wherein a husband and father had "most favored status" in family life, both legal and personal. Among most men of that era, there was a "club" mentality of protecting and covering for all members, accepting their excuses for bad behavior, favoring them in family disputes, discounting wives and other family members words, thus condoning the behavior and facilitating its continuance.

Luke Sullivan illustrates the love and humor in the lives of his siblings and parents, with descriptions of the hilarious antics of the brothers reminiscent of Jean Kerr's "Please Don't Eat the Daisies" as they do stupid, dangerous, creative, things in their thirty-room home and on the several acres surrounding it. He shows how each family member develops in the armed camp atmosphere of their dysfunctional family over the years and how the brothers both bond together and isolate while dealing with their father's alcoholism. Some activities were seriously dangerous (!) but they managed to survive their own childhood and become successful, well-adjusted adults.

The real hero was Mary Sullivan who learned to protect and raise her sons in as loving and healthy a way possible, despite the constantly deteriorating personal climate of their lives. A highly intelligent, erudite woman who maintained her sanity through a lifetime correspondence with her father, her only source of emotional support, Mary strove to protect her children from their father's verbal/emotional abuse, including taking all six and going to a motel to spend the night as Dr. Sullivan's drinking became more out of control.

Luke Sullivan is a true "insider" who not only did exhaustive research about how each person in the family felt and responded to the stress in their lives, but who writes as one who has learned pretty much everything known about the disease of alcoholism. He writes without bitterness or anger at the cards he and his family were dealt and paints a poignant picture of their struggles and triumphs, with honesty and love, including the description of his father as a brilliant, dedicated, driven man striving to improve knowledge in his field for the betterment of all, who suffered from a devastating disease that ruined his life and destroyed his relationships with family, friends and colleagues. 

The story of this highly personal subject, without blaming or whining about the injustice of it all, is well-written and admirable. I highly recommend this book to anyone -- not just those whose lives have been touched or scarred by alcoholism. "Thirty Rooms to Hide In" is a testament to the strength of the human spirit to overcome adversity, quietly compelling and inspiring.