ELLE Contributing Editor Daphne Merkin’s new memoir, This Close to Happy (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), explores her life, recurrent depression, and treatment for the condition. She also deeply investigates her depression’s causes, weighing the impact of her genetic inheritance versus her family’s influence. Based on the relatively scant history of mental illness in her family, she concludes: “I was less, rather than more, fated to do battle with this illness, and…its origins lie with the cold and unnurturing atmosphere of my upbringing as much as anything else.” That declaration, in this biochemically besotted era, almost counts as radical (though, yes, we know what “your mum and dad” all too often do to you, even when they don’t mean to).
It is late at night—early in the morning, actually—and I am on the phone, talking with one of my sisters about the Tragedy of Our Family. We have circled this bleak subject many, many times before, detailing the inexplicable and unbearable reality of growing up in our house. My sister uses words like “carnage” and “damage”; I murmur assent. The two of us are enraptured by this tale, hooked on its horror, although we know all of its twists and turns and, by now, have a pretty good sense of the outcome. All the same, it seems we will never have enough of evoking the look and feel of the barbed-wire in