Picks and Pans Review: Searching for Mercy Street

updated 01/23/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/23/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Linda Gray Sexton

To the world, Anne Sexton was a glamorous, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet whose work teetered along a tightrope of unflinching honesty. But to her family, Sexton was a nightmare: a manic-depressive, alcoholic, suicidal time bomb who spent her life in and out of mental institutions and frightening trances.

Sexton was so popular in her heyday that the Harvard auditorium was filled to the rafters when she read there in 1974, just months before her suicide. In that packed house sat Sexton's daughter Linda, a Radcliffe student who shrank in her seat as she listened to her mother—whose performance at such events was shaky at best—dedicate the reading to her. "Love makes us at times the watchman," Sexton's voice rang out as Linda silently wept.

Now 40 and the author of four novels herself, Linda Gray Sexton is no longer her mother's watchman nor, finally, is she weeping. Inspired by her own deep depression and writer's block, Searching for Mercy Street is the story of Sexton's pilgrimage toward a fulfilling life as a mother and writer—no easy feat after growing up in the shadow of a brilliant and difficult woman.

"What happens when a daughter chooses to make her mark in the same field as her mother?" When your mother is Anne Sexton and the field is language itself, what happens—in Linda Gray Sexton's case—is a courageous journey into the dark terrain of remembering, forgiving and healing through telling—a trait that is her birthright. (Little, Brown, $22.95)

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