"My brother saw the face of God. You never recover from a trauma like that."
So begins Angelhead, a taut, powerful memoir of the madness and crime that rips a family apart.
"I didn’t see God, of course, but I saw my brother seeing God; I saw how petrified he was, how convinced."
Set in Tidewater, Virginia, in the 1980s and early 1990s, Angelhead documents the violent, drug-addled, schizophrenic descent of the author’s brother, Michael. Commencing with Michael’s first psychotic break at age 14 — high on acid, seeing God in his suburban bedroom window — through a series of petty crimes, bizarre disappearances, and suicide attempts to the shocking crime that landed him in the psychiatric wing of a maximum security prison, Angelhead enables us to witness firsthand, as never before, the fragmenting of a mind and a family.
"I knew, still know, that he saw, in some form, His or Her or Its face."
Bottoms shows, in pitch-perfect prose and with great empathy and dramatic tension, the psychological decline of his brother as he becomes obsessed first with heavy metal music, martial arts, and the occult, and then with the more bizarre aspects of Christianity. We not only see the effects Michael’s odd and increasingly violent behavior has on the people around him, but also come to understand how the author, now a successful writer and journalist, used the power of language and storytelling both to save himself and to forgive his brother. With the fast pace and seamless structure of the best crime writing and the moral sophistication and depth of our finest literature, Angelhead will challenge what we know about mental illness and its impact on us all. It is a brilliant work of unusual intensity.
"In his room he was having his first of many psychotic breaks. It came in the form of crippling guilt, ruthless introspection. He was Jesus being scolded by an angry Father. He wore sin, all sin, heavy as lead shackles. God made him look at himself and he was a stone with a minuscule heart."
About Greg Bottoms
Author has written a powerful and entirely unique memoir that grips the reader from the very first sentence. In Angelhead, Bottoms recounts with clarity and compassion his eldest brother’s gradual descent into the darkness of schizophrenia.
Ebook | $11.99
Published by Crown Mar 05, 2002| 224 Pages| ISBN 9780676806540
"I am on record as believing that any day is better when I am not asked to read another memoir. But Greg Bottoms’s book caught my attention immediately and drew me in. I read it all in one sitting. I glanced up once or twice to look out of the window and to clear my head, and then when I finished I looked at the window again but it was dark outside. Which, considering what I’d just finished reading, seemed appropriate.
"I would feel foolish in saying that the book is powerful and well written. . . . That doesn’t seem the point somehow. Angelhead is direct, inventive, clearly imagined, and packs a punch. It is a book people will talk about — perhaps productively." — Ann Beattie
"Angelhead is a cleanly distilled story of a profound family anguish. On every one of its two hundred pages there are sentences like arrows. The whole work has the beauty of hard, painful truth, arrived at through intelligence, art, and compassion. This is one of the most moving books I’ve read in a long, long time." — John Casey