Prism: Andrea’s world. – book reviews
The most compelling aspect of Prism: Andrea’s World (Stein and Day, $16.95), the story of a woman with multiple personalities, is not the vivid description of her bizarre and self-abusive behavior, although this case study is certainly as fascinating as the foreerunners in this popular genre. It would be easy to sensationalize a case history of one of the mind’s most eerie disorders, but instead writer Jonathan Bliss and psychiatrist Eugene Bliss have wisely chosen to present Andrea’s symptoms and chart her recovery in chilling but clinically accurate detail.
Only the most recent in a long string of therapists for Andrea, psychiatrist Bliss discovers that she was sexually and mentally brutalized by a psychotic father from the age of 4. Her strict Italian Catholic upbringing served only to further confuse her; she assumed that her father’s erratic behavior was the result of her own “evilness” and so turned much of her anger and resentment inward upon herself. To cope with the savagery of her world, she created, through autopypnosis, 23 alter egos. These range from 4-year-old “Andrea-Ellen,” who spends most of her time hiding, to “Marna,” a promiscuous woman who seeks abusive male companionship, to the punitive “Joseph,” a hideous reincarnation of her father.
Like the many previous books about multiple personalities, Prism focuses on the development and progress of the disorder. Andrea (not her real name) is on the surface a highly successful career woman, but her home life is a shambles; her core personality routinely blanks out and, in the guise of her alternate personalities, does crazy things: She strangles cats, gets pregnant and burns herself with cleaning fluid.
Despite such craziness, the book’s strength derives from the credibility of Andrea’s story. Just as the origin of her disorder is complicated, the treatment is fraught with reversals. As several of her personalities are “integrated” or merged, for example, andrea’s obesity becomes more and more problematic. Bliss is finally able to report that she is mostly free of “crises,” but he notes that there will always be times when panic may strike and threaten her with disintegration.
In this respect, at least, Andrea’s illness is a metaphor for much mental illness, which, although socially unacceptable, may be a necessary defense against extremely stressful circumstances. “Cured? Perhaps not,” the authors write, since Andrea sometimes feels a lack of security without her host of personalities. “But stabilized, if she’s careful; back in control, if she’s vigilant; and happy, if life is good to her,” they conclude.
COPYRIGHT 1985 Sussex Publishers, Inc.
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group