Book excerpt: "Hidden Valley Road" by Robert Kolker

An Oprah's Book Club pick and a #1 New York Times bestseller, the latest book by Robert Kolker (author of "Lost Girls") is an account of an American family beset by schizophrenia affecting six of 12 children, who were studied by the National Institute of Mental Health as a means to understand the genetic links to the disease, to inform its prediction and treatment.

Read an excerpt below from Kolker's "Hidden Valley Road":


The dozen children in the Galvin family perfectly spanned the baby boom. Donald was born in 1945, Mary in 1965. Their century was the American century. Their parents, Mimi and Don, were born just after the Great War, met during the Great Depression, married during World War II, and raised their children during the Cold War. In the best of times, Mimi and Don seemed to embody everything that was great and good about their generation: a sense of adventure, industriousness, responsibility, and optimism (anyone who has twelve children, the last several against the advice of doctors, is nothing if not an optimist). As their family grew, they witnessed entire cultural movements come and go. And then all the Galvins made their own contribution to the culture, as a monumental case study in humanity's most perplexing disease.

Certainly no researcher had ever encountered six brothers in one family—full-blooded siblings, with the same two parents in common, the same shared genetic line. Starting in the 1980s, the Galvin family became the subject of study by researchers on the hunt for a key to understanding schizophrenia. As with all such test subjects, their participation was always confidential. But now, after nearly four decades of research, the Galvin family's contribution finally can be seen clearly. Samples of their genetic material have formed the cornerstone of research that has helped unlock our understanding of schizophrenia.

Author Robert Kolker. © Jeff Zorabedian

Until recently, the Galvins were completely unaware of how they might be helping others—oblivious to how their situation had, among some researchers, created such a feeling of promise. But what science has learned from them is only one small portion of their story. That story begins with their parents, Mimi and Don, and a life together that took flight with limitless hope and confidence, only to curdle and collapse in tragedy, confusion, and despair.

But the story of the children was always about something different. If their childhood was a funhouse-mirror reflection of the American dream, their story is about what comes after that image is shattered.

That story is about children, now grown, investigating the mysteries of their own childhood—reconstituting the fragments of their parents' dream, and shaping it into something new.

It is about rediscovering the humanity in their own brothers, people who most of the world had decided were all but worthless.

It is about, even after the worst has happened in virtually every imaginable way, finding a new way to understand what it means to be a family.

From the book "Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family" by Robert Kolker. Copyright © 2020 by Robert Kolker. Published by Doubleday, an imprint of The Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.

The entire Galvin family celebrating Don's Ph.D. in 1969. Courtesy of the Galvin family

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