Part medical mystery, part war story, and part social and family history, The Mythical Bill is the story of how one man’s physical and mental pain radiates outward into the life and mind of each member of his family. Weaving together diary entries, correspondence, and scrupulous research, Jody McAuliffe examines her father’s life before, during, and after WWII, seeking answers to the questions of what really happened to Bill McAuliffe and what caused his disintegration. His initial postwar diagnosis was torticollis: a condition of persistent involuntary contraction of the neck muscles, causing the head to be twisted to an abnormal position. But torticollis was only the beginning of Bill’s suffering and his daughter’s efforts to understand it. The condition becomes a metaphor for things that refuse to fall into place: the body not in accord with the mind, the head that turns away from reality.
From this drama of dislocation and disjointed truths, two braided selves emerge: the I of Jody and the I of Bill. Through this doubleness, the writer probes a set of questions about how much we shape ourselves and how much we are shaped by forces beyond our control.
The Mythical Bill, a moving and unusual book, is for people who suffer the devastating effects of combat on the psyche, for those who encounter any debilitating disease, and for those who grow up with a father only partially present. McAuliffe’s ear-catching, evocative, and often breathtaking writing forces readers to confront the most terrifying question posed by a parent’s mental illness: will I get it too? Her narrative voice is searching, compassionate, and self-deprecating, but cut through with welcome bits of humor in this daughter’s story of confusion, sadness, and loss.
“An extremely skillful piece of writing, a story told in juxtapositions and counterpoints, with a time scheme that leaps effectively back and forth. . . . This is a reading experience of rare depth and range.”—Don DeLillo
"Eloquent, elegiac, and razor sharp, McAuliffe's memoir neither offers nor finds easy answers. This is a moving tribute to a father and a probing exploration of memory, loss, and illness."—Library Journal
“This is great work—a gothic drama, a monologue of a book, a mysterious book, not a ‘who done it?’ mystery, a ‘what on earth could have done it?’ mystery—what cataclysm, what stroke of fate.”—Lee Breuer, co-artistic director, Mabou Mines Theater, New York“Jody McAuliffe has written a brave, painfully candid, and loving memoir about her powerfully realized, imposing father. The literary honesty is plain, often harsh, and almost cathartic on every page. Charting the amazing life of her mythic Bill is also an act of cultural timekeeping and rebuilding a family’s moral compass. For McAuliffe, DNA is part of a Proustian commitment and, in her filial reflection, memory is flawed destiny. In short, this is a wonderful book.”—Allan Havis, professor of theatre and provost at Marshall College, University of California, San Diego
“Jody McAuliffe has written a vivid work whose ostensible subject is her relation to a troubled, puzzling father who was ill; but the book, exploring the hidden depths in one family, seems a reminder that every life is ephemeral and ultimately unfathomable, and that loss is sometimes redeemed in the complicated act of remembering.”—Colette Brooks, author, In the City: Random Acts of Awareness