Dennis Deery

Letters to a Young Madman by Paul Gruchow

October 28, 2012

Letters to a Young Madman: A MemoirLetters to a Young Madman: A Memoir by Paul Gruchow

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Paul Gruchow is one of my all-time favorite authors. I had the chance to meet him a couple of times, and in particular recall one incredibly stormy evening listening to him read and speak at UW-Stout here in Menomonie. He had such an incredible gift for language, and for seeing the natural world. I first experienced his work in The Necessity of Empty Places, which I read, appropriately enough on a wonderful vacation to Glacier and Grand Teton National Parks.

Until I heard the news in 2004 that Gruchow had killed himself, I had no idea of the incredible storms he faced in his own mind. The brief news reports at the time indicated that he had long suffered from clinical depression, and that he had a manuscript telling the story of his mental illness in draft form. Nobody seemed to know when, or indeed if, it might be published.

Thankfully, it has been published. We are able to learn about the hell that Gruchow suffered, stories written with the beautiful language that he always used, but heart-breaking stories rather than uplifting tales of the outdoors. He experienced many hospitalizations throughout his illness, and had some truly awful experiences with the mental health system.

This book will resonate with anyone who has experienced depression, or knows those who have experienced mental illness. This is a book that should be read by anyone who works with the mentally ill, and anyone who cares about the human experience. It is at heart a cry for help from someone who wasn’t able to triumph over his illness, and hopefully it will help all of us to understand that cry and respond to it when we hear it.

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