Glenn Close's sister writes a memoir of mental illness

Sharon Peters
Special for USA TODAY
'Resilience' by Jessie Close

You might think the most interesting thing about a person would be having a movie star for a sibling.

Jessie Close, younger sister of actress Glenn Close, lays waste to that notion.

The youngest of four Close children reared in Connecticut highborn comfort (for a time), Jessie was essentially abandoned by her parents in the 1950s when she was 6 and they became devotees of the cult-like Moral Re-Armament (MRA).

She was relegated to MRA nannies as her mother and physician father went on pilgrimages to far-flung parts of the world, then moved her to MRA headquarters in Switzerland before they settled in Africa for a time. Increasingly rebellious Jessie was shuttled back to Connecticut relatives, determinedly shed her virginity at 15, and was disinvited from private school.

Assigned to the care of her sister Tina, Jessie trundled off to California where she skipped school, did drugs, and at 17 married a controlling, abusive druggie. They lived the rock-and-roll, random-sex life of 1970s radicals, thanks to a monthly stipend from her trust fund. And by age 20, Jessie had an abortion, two suicide attempts and a divorce under her belt.

Subsequent years were equally complicated: transience, more drugs and alcohol, more loser men and risky behaviors, a fairly serene period in India with an alluring man (soon to be a husband and ex), anxiety, a retreat to Wyoming and Montana, another marriage and two sons, mood-stabilizing prescriptions, cheating, the purchase (with sister Glenn) of a coffee shop in Bozeman, the birth of a daughter with yet another man, one son's descent into mental illness, and sporadic stabs at sobriety.

At 50, Jessie was diagnosed with bipolar disorder with psychotic features (hearing/seeing things not real) and put on drugs that worked. And she has, in the years since then, remained quite solid though, she confesses, she sometimes "missed the old me."

An interesting life.

A problem with this memoir: It's not entirely clear to readers whether Jessie's promiscuity, substance abuse and poor choices were solely because of mental illness. Much of her behavior was quite common among undisciplined thrill-seekers of the 1960s and '70s who had the means to drift and experiment. Moreover, how much of her acting out was the predictable byproduct of a peculiar childhood and absentee parents?

It's difficult to completely disentangle long-term self-indulgent running amok from mental illness (and there's genetic proof she indeed has bipolar disorder), but other writers have done so.

Also, there's the long ancestral history oddly plopped at the beginning of the story. It's necessary info, given her later-discovered familial linkage to mental illness, but it's handled with a less-polished touch than the rest of the book. Keep plugging through it. She has lived a life that even at her worst was spellbinding, and it's a definitely-worth-the-read memoir.

Big sis Glenn, who's become a passionate advocate for those dealing with mental illness, provides the occasional insightful vignette.

Sharon Peters is author of Trusting Calvin: How a Dog Helped Heal a Holocaust Survivor's Heart.

Resilience: Two Sisters and a Story of Mental Illness

By Jessie Close with Pete Earley

Grand Central

2.5 stars out of four