'Hidden Valley Road' Explores One Family's Harrowing Battle With Schizophrenia

Oct 12, 2020

Don and Mimi Galvin had a dozen children—10 boys and two girls—born between 1945 and 1965, perfectly spanning the baby boom. 

In many ways they were a model American family: Don Galvin, a charming and confident Air Force Academy official, was named Father of the Year in 1965 by a civic group in Colorado Springs; his wife, Mimi, was a perfectionist who “baked a cake and a pie every night—or at least had Jell-O with whipped cream.”

By the mid-1970s, however, half of the Galvin children—six of the 10 boys—were diagnosed with schizophrenia. A decade later, the Galvins became subjects of researchers investigating a genetic basis for the illness, and those medical records, combined with personal journals, letters, and interviews with friends and family members, inform this fascinating nonfiction account by award-winning author Robert Kolker.

With clarity and compassion, Kolker follows the tale of this extraordinary family, from violent fights among the older brothers to festering secrets of sexual abuse. With alternating chapters, he weaves in the historical science of schizophrenia, relating how researchers once assumed mothers to be the cause of children’s mental illnesses. The family’s house on Hidden Valley Road is the setting for the story, but Kolker’s work explores so much more, including ongoing disagreements about the nature of schizophrenia and the paths to treatment.

I went into this audiobook knowing little about the disease other than what I’d seen in Hollywood depictions, such as “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest” or “A Beautiful Mind.” I came away with an appreciation for how it affects families, and admiration for the scientists working toward prevention, treatment, and perhaps, one day, a cure.

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