Less than a week after the release of Catherine Gildiner’s new book Good Morning, Monster, it has already ranked sixth on The Globe and Mail and Toronto Star’s lists of best-selling Canadian non-fiction this week. I can’t wait for it to be released in the U.S. and hit The New York Times list.
My friend Terry and I attended the launch on September 4th in Toronto and were thrilled to once again meet and talk to this wonderful writer. As a huge fan of her earlier books, I couldn’t wait for this one and it was worth it. Dr. Gildiner was a practising psychologist for twenty-five years before she closed her practice to devote her time to writing. Her three-volume memoir is among the most entertaining and enjoyable books I’ve had the pleasure of reading. It amazes me that someone could live a life interesting enough to compile three volumes, and that only takes her to age 25.
Gildiner was born in upper New York State in 1948 to a pharmacist father and a mother who eschewed basic domestic tasks like making meals. From an early age, Gildiner helped her father in his business by accompanying their deliveryman when he delivered prescriptions. Her father passed away while she was still a teenager but her strong work ethic carried her through her studies at the University of Toronto’s Victoria College, on to a scholarship stint at Trinity College at Oxford in England and ultimately earning her Ph.D.
As a long-time fan of Catherine Gildiner’s writing, I could hardly wait for Good Morning, Monster to be released because it’s about a subject that I find endlessly fascinating. Having read such wonderful, redemptive stories like Educated by Tara Westover, The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance, and The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah, it always amazes me how certain people who grow up in abusive, neglectful or toxic environments somehow manage to rise above their disadvantages and achieve what we view as success. Very often, siblings in the same family raised by the same parent(s) do not always rise to the challenge. What makes some people able to overcome and rise like a phoenix while others do not? Sometimes the answer lies in having a mentor, an outside advocate, a role model and for those fortunate enough to afford it when they become adults, a therapist. Others do it entirely under their own steam. It’s a fascinating phenomenen.
Good Morning, Monster is Gildiner’s account of five of her past patients whom she clearly regards and respects as true heroes. Each of these five people endured not just one challenge to overcome but years of abuse and neglect. Reading about Laura, Peter, Danny, Alana and Madelaine is disturbing.
After her mother committed suicide, Laura was abandoned by her father in a rural cottage at the age of eight during a Canadian winter, with a younger brother and sister to look after. It was spring before their situation was uncovered. Peter was a gifted musician who spent most of the first five years of his life alone in a crib in the attic while his parents worked. Danny was deeply affected by being subjected to estrangement from his Indigenous parents at the age of five and spent the next twelve years enduring the horrors of a residential school while his birth identity was beaten out of him. Alana was sexually abused by her grandmother, her father, and his perverted friends for most of her childhood. Madelaine, on the other hand, came from an affluent family but suffered at the hands of a hateful mother who greeted her each day when she was a young child with the words “Good morning, monster”, hence the title of the book.
The tragic fact that vulnerable children are continually and still subjected to the kinds of abuse these people experienced is a sad commentary on our society. We all know there are certain people who should never have children, but they do. In the particular cases Gildiner describes, no child protection authorities, teachers, family or law enforcement officials intervened to protect the welfare of these people when they were only children and, sadly, we can be sure there are far too many similar cases still occurring right under our noses.
I highly recommend everyone read this book for several reasons. First of all, it will hopefully help us recognize signs of abuse or neglect and take appropriate action. Children are so vulnerable and because they love and fear their abusers, they are reluctant to speak up. This book also helps those of us who have never undergone therapy to understand the process, the work involved and the time required. These patients required on average five or six years to peel back all their layers to get at the core of their adult dysfunctionality. According to Gildiner, “Plumbing the unconscious is a bit like deep-sea scuba diving. You can’t rise to the surface too quickly. You have to come up gradually and acclimatize or else you will get the bends.” Excellent analogy. Significantly, Gildiner herself benefited and learned more about her own behaviours after working with these people.
I also learned a few things that I never before considered. Boomer gals were raised to be obedient, deferential women who didn’t rock the boat. It was only after a few years in the workforce and encouragement from the feminist movement that we realized we were being taken advantage of. We started to speak up for ourselves—to understand that our opinions had value, that we deserved to make more money, that we had merit in our own right. I was also surprised to read Gildiner’s take on anger, having spent my entire life suppressing anger in case I was perceived negatively when I displayed anger. Gildiner says: “Anger is a negotiation device that helps us to stand up for ourselves, to say, in effect, ‘Get off my turf; you’re stomping on my sense of self. Then it’s up to the other person to deal with your anger—to decide whether it’s a legitimate problem that requires a change in his or her behaviour. I like that. Of course, extreme or inappropriate anger is another matter altogether.
After you finish reading Good Morning, Monster, you’re going to need something light and funny to offset the horror of her patients’ stories, even though they have positive endings. That’s why I suggest you then read Catherine Gildiner’s earlier three-part memoir. It’s a classic baby boomer life story with so many references boomers can relate to. Her story is cleverly written, engaging and at times hilarious. I particularly enjoyed the third book and when you read it you’ll understand why, but all three are delightful and a must-read.
I’ve recommended a lot of books here and to help you in your inspirational reading journey, I’m including links to Amazon where you can order them. Full disclosure: If you order from these links, you will receive Amazon’s best price and I may receive a teeny, tiny commission. Thank you and I know you will enjoy any or all of them. Please feel free to share this posting.
FOR MORE INFORMATION or TO ORDER ANY OF THESE BOOKS, CLICK ON THE IMAGE: