By Tony Williams on December 2, 2015
For those in the Legion of the Damned, this is a very touching book. The author has shared his bitter experiences of the past involving individual turmoil and social alienation that will affect many who read it. Even in cultures where the standard prohibition was “If you ask for psychological treatment, it will go down in your record” (whatever that was?), readers will deeply sympathize with this autobiographical book and realize that they were not alone at their time of deep emotional pain. This is a very brave act on the part of the author re-visiting a psychological past that even the memory must have been difficult to deal with. Still for others daily contemplating Graham Greene’s “Russian” solution in their own version of “Clapham Common”, the fact that somebody else suffered in different ways and came out of it, broken, but not destroyed, will give hope to many. As I finished the last chapter of this very poignant book, my mind returned to that closing image in Tony Palmer’s TESTIMONY when the Great Leader appeared as a ghostly presence to the dying Shostakovitch – “Without me, you would not have been creative” is his final sentence. I’m sure both composer and author of so many other creative works would have wished that the cost of such creativity was not that high. However, this book is essential reading. There is no such thing as standard normality and we should accept those who are different as well as understand the differences within ourselves, where they emerge from, and how they may be directed in creative and positive ways.
By Prospero on December 14, 2015
An incredibly honest story about having and recovering from a mental breakdown. Since McBride is a movie guy, I would say the story has elements of Oliver Twist, Heaven Help Us, The Snake Pit, and David and Lisa.
By Faith Harper on December 21, 2015
Joseph McBride’s latest book offers itself as a memoir of both the author’s childhood and adolescence, replete with a honest portrayal of his breakdown and stay at a psychiatric facility. Additionally, the story takes us on a journey through McBride’s first love, a young woman he met while at this facility, who wove in and out of his life until her untimely death when she (and Joe) were both in their early twenties.
Except it’s not a memoir. Not really. And it’s not a treatise on first love. Or an homage to the brilliant and shattered Kathy Wolf. At its core, The Broken Places is a trauma narrative. It’s about a childhood so intense, it causes an emotional shattering in the teenage Joe. And it is about his connection to a young woman, also shattered and also trying to find her way home.
Plato’s Meno is a Socratic dialogue on the nature of virtue. Plato asked “How do you go about finding that thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you?”
How do you, indeed? How do you realize your own empowerment when you have never, in the entirety of your life, experienced it?
By Bob Wilson on December 21, 2015
The Broken Places reminded me from the start of A Catcher in the Rye. The book is riveting, and intensely honest. Anyone with shadows from their teen years will be deeply moved, and likely find the read extremely cathartic. The section on Kathy Wolf suffering abuse from classmates in grade school for being Native American moved me deeply. The scene put tears in my eyes, and haunted me for days. I am so glad that this book came to my attention, and it was not buried treasure that escaped my view. Joseph McBride is a bit of a talented wonder boy, and has written about so many subjects with expertise. It startled me to see what he has overcome. Do not miss this fine work.
By Robert D. Kidera on February 3, 2016
This deeply affecting memoir of Joseph McBride’s childhood and adolescent struggles touches the heart and disquiets the mind. The challenges of family, faith, identity, and sexual awakening can overwhelm the brightest and most sensitive among us. The author pulls no punches in chronicling his desperate years, his near destruction, and his discovery of salvation in the unlikeliest of places – in a doomed relationship with a beautiful and tragic young woman. Heartbreaking at times, exhilarating as well, THE BROKEN PLACES is a testimony to power that lies within each human, even the lost, to resurrect hope and find love and purpose in one’s life. A gem.
By James Naremore on February 5, 2016
I’ve long been an admirer of Joseph McBride’s important writings about film, but this memoir took me by surprise and left me with a great personal respect for him. It’s a brave, unflinchingly honest account of the traumatic family, religious, and educational experiences which, when combined with various aspects of his personality, led to his teen-aged crackup and commitment to a mental hospital. I suspect he was able to achieve productive maturity chiefly because of his manifest intelligence and capacity for love. The Broken Places reads with the power of a novel. It has an admirable objectivity and lack of self-pity, and its portrait of Kathy Wolf, the young woman who helped McBride survive but could not survive herself, is unforgettable. Kathy is brought so vividly alive that she fairly leaps off the page.
By Scott Boswell on March 28, 2016
An outstanding coming-of-age memoir that unfolds like a good novel, knowing that it recounts a history makes it all the more powerful. McBride shifts effortlessly between the voice of a naive (albeit highly intelligent) youth and the wiser perspective of hindsight. The story is engrossing by expanding degrees as it depicts a world fraught with sexual repression, bullying, family dysfunction, and mental illness told with a brutal frankness that is shocking, touching, and, at times, amusing. The severity of a Catholic school upbringing in the 1950s is almost hard to imagine today, and this alone would provide enough material for a lengthy story, but McBride’s narrative goes many more places (that I’ll refrain from recounting). The central characters are vividly drawn throughout, illustrated with complexity and detail that makes them relatable and unforgettable. A bit soul-crushing but ultimately cathartic, the writing avoids sentimentality and banal life lessons that can make memoirs so off-putting. Highly recommended. (Side note, this story would make an excellent film).
By Norman Fost on April 7, 2016
I found Joseph McBride’s book, “The Broken Places,” to be profoundly moving, sad, heartwarming and uplifting.
It took enormous courage to publish this story with such candor and clarity, particularly since McBride is in the public sphere as an eminent Orson Welles scholar, among other contributions to the film industry.
His book should give hope and guidance to some of the millions of others who suffer from mental illness, dysfunctional homes, destructive incarceration in mental institutions, adverse effects from psychotropic drugs, and the damage that religion can cause.
McBride’s ability to emerge from all of that, in part by taking responsibility for his life, at a young age, by escaping from the people and institutions that were causing such harm, is profoundly uplifting.
I am reminded of John Fowles’ “The Magus,” with its message that there are only willing victims, and the best way to avoid being victimized is to take personal responsibility for one’s own situation. McBride’s story strikes me as a stellar example.
The account of the charismatic and radiant Kathy Wolf, as others have noted, is so vivid that I feel as if I would recognize her on the street. She played a crucial role at a critical point in McBride’s life, and her loss is profoundly sad, but as McBride reflects on her life, perhaps she too found relief from her incredible suffering in the way that was best for her.
By Dick Guttman on March 11, 2016
A rigid and repressive Catholic grade school and a demented, sadistic teacher nun work to break the spirit of a precocious, sensitive eight year old boy. With the strength of his own intellectual curiosity and explorations, with his compulsion to hold to the truth-telling which his faith in The Faith has imbued, he achieves the victory of survival. The child who was always the only adult in the room, battered and nearly broken survivor of inquisition, was doomed to become the inspirationally honest and eloquent writer, cultural historian and teacher that Joe McBride has achieved with such broad acclaim. Crawling over the broken glass of his childhood, mangled for his journey across the minefield of adolescence, Joe McBride shares an extraordinary life of intellectual and emotional triumph. and of the woman who gave him the strength and wisdom to prevail. “The Broken Places” rewarding and riveting reading and brilliant writing.
By Jonathan Rosenbaum on March 22, 2016
It appears that my initial review got lost in cyberspace, so I’ll try to reconstruct it. This beautifully structured and painfully honest memoir is a remarkable achievement in many ways. McBride has obviously been reflecting on its events and characters for many decades, and his protracted wrestling with the material has clearly paid off in terms of lucidity and wisdom. Although it often reads like a novel (with lengthy stretches of dialogue and detailed descriptions that at times seem to go beyond the capacities of memory), it also uses such non-fictional materials as photographs and the texts of real letters (as did my own memoir, Moving Places), so that one winds up feeling that McBride regards fictional and non-fictional methods as alternate routes that ultimately lead towards the same bedrock truth. The characters (especially McBride himself, his parents, and the woman he calls “Kathy Wolf,” but many others as well) are vivid and unforgettable, and the structuring of the material is both economical and eloquent. This is an amazing book.
By Steve Mayhew on June 6, 2016
The Broken Places is a very open and harrowing account by author Joseph McBride of his troubled adolescence and the struggle between adherence to the Catholic faith and the natural impulses of a young man attracted to the opposite sex. The object of his desires, a young woman called Kathy, is also contending with her own demons. The account of their troubled affair is unstintingly frank at times, pulling the reader into the story right from the beginning until the tragic denouement of McBride’s relationship with Kathy.
As if his teenage upbringing wasn’t troubled enough, the story of the erratic and at times emotionally destructive attitude of McBride’s parents towards their eldest son almost deserves a book of its own. The passages on the author’s dysfunctional family give credence, as if it were needed, to the English poet Philip Larkin’s much quoted poetic observation that ‘they (expletive deleted) you up, your mum and dad. They may not mean to, but they do’.
The author should be congratulated on recounting in explicit detail what was obviously a painful and traumatic period in his life. It deserves a much wider readership and I would urge those more familiar with McBride’s celebrated film writing to take a chance on The Broken Places. You won’t regret it.