Alex Weber takes a deep breath through her snorkel and dives to the bottom of Carmel Bay, a calm coastal cove several kilometers south of Monterey, California. Just meters away, atop the small cliffs that drop into the waves, golfers tread on the emerald greens of Pebble Beach Golf Links. It’s early December—the sky’s blue, the weather T-shirt warm. The golfers swing their way from hole to hole on the famed golf course. Unfortunately, their aim is rarely perfect.
Weber surfaces 45 seconds later and drops nearly a dozen golf balls into a yellow mesh bag held open by her father, Mike, who is also in a wetsuit and snorkeling gear. The pair have been in the water for several hours and have collected more than 1,500 golf balls—the fallout of a sport that has unseen, and probably significant, consequences for the ocean.
In America Death is a whisper. Instinctively we feel we should dim the lights, lower our voices and draw the screens. We give the dead, dying and the grieving room. We say we do so because we don’t want to intrude. And that is true but not for these reasons.
We don’t want to intrude because we don’t want to look at the mirror of our own mortality. We have lost our way with death.
On the Irish island off the coast of County Mayo, where my family have lived in the same village for the last 200 years, death speaks with a louder voice.
I was a bookseller when I first encountered Kristin Newman’s travel memoir nestled among the morning delivery. Squinting for a moment, I recognized the red blob beneath the title — What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding — as a lipstick kiss on an airplane window. The jacket copy not only summed up the countries she visited, but also the men she met: “Israeli bartenders, Finnish poker players, sexy Bedouins, and Argentinean priests.” My throat constricted, heartbeat erratic, as I slipped a copy in my bag. I chalked up this difficulty swallowing and sweaty palms to disagreeing with Newman’s central argument: that by travelling alone instead of settling down, she found herself, and only then could she walk off into the sunset she’d been destined for. I couldn’t read past the first chapter, instead wanting to take to the streets like an Evangelical grasping a paint paddle and duct tape sign: this book is a lie; that’s not how the story goes; repent! What I meant was: this is not how my story goes.
“Blue Dreams,” like all good histories of medicine, reveals healing to be art as much as science. Slater doesn’t demonize the imperfect remedies of the past or present — even as she describes their costs with blunt severity. And, improbably perhaps, she ends on a note of hope, calling these early efforts to address mental illness “the first golden era.” If the story of the magic bullet of psychopharmacology is coming to an end, another story — a potentially better one, Slater believes — is coming to take its place.