by “David Reed

Basic Books, $10.00

When “Anna Reed, the pseudonymous heroine of this chronicle, died in 1973, she was thirty-six years old and had been crazy on and off for ten of those years. Her guilt-stricken young husband, an English writer, offers this account of her madness and suicide as an act of exorcism and as a plea for general forgiveness for whatever responsibility he may hold for her death.
In a way, the book stands as an indictment of Laingian therapy, Anna’s psychiatrist, a disciple of R. D. Laing’s, and even the master himself encouraged David Reed to keep his wife at home during her worst, most violent spells of insanity, allowing her to work out her madness on her own terms, even when those terms involved threatening her young sons and making her husband’s life a ceaseless nightmare. Meanwhile, the Laingians, busy with their well-publicized Community and their American groupies, were clearly not giving Anna the attention she required.
Reed cannot be held entirely blameless in this affair. Despite the advice of the local mental hospital to commit Anna to their care, he stood stubbornly by the Laingians, attracted more by their trendiness, one suspects, than by any real faith in their methods.
Of course, Reed cannot be blamed for causing his wife’s troubles either. She had a history of instability dating back to a miserable childhood in wartime Germany. Conventional hospitalization and electroshock therapy had failed her in the past; before her final breakdown she had made her husband promise not to subject her to hospital treatment again. So he found himself caught in a bind, unable to help her while she lived, unable to justify his decisions once she was gone.
Anna is a grim and riveting book. Much as Anna suffered, though, the continuing tragedy is David’s. One can only suppose that Anna’s end was inevitable and hope that her husband will eventually find in that knowledge a little solace. —A. H.