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The Mythical Bill

A Neurological Memoir

Jody McAuliffe

Publication Year: 2013

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. 

Published by: University of Iowa Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-9

Contents

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pp. ix-13

Chronology

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pp. xiii-15

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Prelude

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pp. 1-8

What day is today, I hear him ask, my father, who is called Bill: the dreaded question. I’ve just woken up. Last night I stayed up late watching The Yearling on my portable TV with the rabbit-ears antennae — the one my mother let me buy with the fifty dollars I made dancing in Sleeping Beauty with the Leningrad Kirov Ballet. It sits...

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Part One [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 9-26

He called me Johannesburg, South Africa. They named me Johanna Dianne after my patron saint, St. John of the Cross, but only in order to call me Jody. Or, in his case, Johannesburg. Walking with him to church some Sunday when I am still pretty little, holding his hand, I take big steps to keep...

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Part Two

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pp. 27-42

William (Bill) Joseph McAuliffe — Mc [plus] Olaf, redheaded Viking ought-to-be — is born on November 14, 1920, the third of four children of John H. McAuliffe and Margaret Cronin. As an infant, so the story went, my grandmother lived in a cabin in Montana surrounded by “Indians.” She was born in the...

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Part Three

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pp. 43-77

This sterling tale of heroism in the South Pacific does not jibe with what my brother had heard from my father’s younger brother, Bob. Jack sends to the U.S. Navy for documents relating to my father’s participation in WWII. The documents that he receives in return do not tell the whole story. He has to parse...

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Part Four

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pp. 79-107

Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie opens in Chicago on December 26, 1944, and runs while Bill is stateside but not yet discharged. Laurette Taylor finds the play she has been waiting for and Bill sees it. An indelible image of excellence, her miraculous performance in this dream/nightmare...

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Part Five

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pp. 109-128

October 29, 1990, and I’m reading the New Yorker and come across an article by Terence Monmaney, “An Epidemic of Brain Disease: This Obscure Malady.” I still have the magazine; there’s a pumpkin on the cover with a man’s face inside of it. Monmaney documents the work of a neuropathologist named...

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Acknowledgments

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pp. 129-155

I am grateful for reactions to the manuscript given to me by Allan Havis, W. D. King, Jeff Jackson, Corina Stan, Tom DiPietro, Don De- Lillo, Elizabeth Davis, Marlane Meyer, Victoria Christian, and Frank Lentricchia. I wish to thank Dr. Lawrence Greenblatt, Dr. Peter King,...

Appendix: A Brief History of Surgical Approaches to Torticollis

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pp. 131-134

A Short Bibliography of Works Consulted and Cited

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pp. 135-137


E-ISBN-13: 9781609381554
Print-ISBN-13: 9781609381547

Page Count: 164
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Sightline Books

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