“The End of Miracles is realistic, exciting, moving. I strongly recommend it.”
–Harriette Simpson Arnow, Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award Finalist, Author of The Dollmaker.
I am so honored to bring you a very special post today. Not only did I get a chance to read this riveting novel, but I also had the opportunity to ask Dr. Monica Starkman some revealing questions.
Margo Kerber has spent fruitless years battling infertility, and is completely devastated when her seemingly miraculous pregnancy ends in a late-term miscarriage. For a time, her unshakable -yet false- belief that she is expecting again — the widespread but often overlooked “false pregnancy” (pseudocyesis) — provides Margo relief from her all-consuming grief. After an ultrasound reveals the truth, she sinks into deep despair, resulting in admission to a psychiatric unit. Uncertain if the sometimes chaotic environment is helping or making her worse, she seizes an opportunity to flee into the city streets. Her vision clouded by severe depression, Margo sees a briefly unattended infant and is compelled to commit an unthinkable crime.
The End of Miracles (She Writes Press, 2016) by Monica Starkman, M.D., is a stirring portrait of one woman’s psychological unraveling, taking readers on an unforgettable journey across the blurred lines between sanity and depression, madness and healing.
This stunning book builds slowly to a climatic ending full of the best and worst of humanity. I kept wondering if I’d be able to make it to the end, as scenes moved from lush, detailed memories with that certain sense of wonder and magic that all children seem to possess, to that of severe psychic trauma and its devastating effects. I did make it, with the aid of some tissues and a hot cup of chai.
The emotional journey that Margo goes through is mirrored by other events in her normally tidy world, and it all spirals out of control in one way or another. While some people might find that wading through the first 2/3 of the book before the more jarring events happen to be too tedious, I appreciated the sense of security, though I can’t say I was totally surprised that it was rather swiftly ripped away and shredded to pieces.
If you’ve ever suffered through any sort of depression, this book will really hit home. While you might not have experienced the same trauma or psychosomatic symptoms, the feeling of utter helplessness displayed by both Margo and Steven will be all too familiar. Dr. Monica Starkman sums it up well in the following passage:
“Pleasure seems to be a language she spoke once but has long since forgotten.”
When you’re reading this book you don’t just see words on the page, you feel strongly and you mourn along with the characters. It would be impossible not be moved in some small way at least, given the strength and beauty behind the writing itself, and the depth with which each of these persons is rendered. I highly recommend reading this, as long as you are aware of the triggering material from what’s mentioned in the synopsis, and you are prepared to embark upon a tumultuous quest to find meaning and fulfillment after so many disappointments.
Here are some more of my favorite quotes, which I feel exhibit the lyrical quality of Dr. Starkman’s writing.
“Margo watched and mourned. The intricate fabric of her hospital was shredding faster than she could have imagined.”
“Magic. A secret magic, since at this moment the pregnancy was a secret knowledge shared only between the two of them, herself and the baby, that tiny precious parasite burrowing relentlessly deeper into the furrows of her womb, connected to her in the most intimate embrace two humans could ever share.”
“And though this night he spoke little, she could feel the poetry in his touch.”
Interview with Dr. Monica Starkman:
Thank you so very much for answering our questions! Firstly, What motivated you to step out of your role as researcher and psychiatrist into the role of novelist?
I believe in the idea of self-actualization: that we all have potential to develop. For me, it was the possibility that I could write a good novel.
Can you share a particular case that you came across in your research that you just had to find out more about and why?
I consulted on and treated two patients with false pregnancies. Their cases so sparked my interest and got me thinking that The End of Miracles was the result. However, the plot and the main character are totally my own creations, and bear no resemblance whatsoever to any of my patients.
In addition to teaching and writing, what other passions do you have?
Music. I studied piano for many years at Juilliard Conservatory’s pre-college division. These days, I attend as many concerts as I can. I was a jazz-loving teenager and still enjoy it.
Do you collect anything others might find bizarre?
I have a small collection of ET figurines, and one of the Dancing Raisins!
What could we find in your perfect cup of tea?
Pieces of fresh ginger I have cut up and boiled in water for two hours.
Your character Margo is an example of what can happen when someone suffers from severe mental illness. What would you hope for readers to take away from her story?
I hope that readers will understand that friends and family with severe mental illness, in their basic humanity, are not so different from other people.
Do you recall any particular books that you’ve recommended to your patients who needed something uplifting to read?
As a rule, I don’t recommend particular books.
If you could go back in time to spend the day with anyone, be they celebrity or not, who would you choose and why?
I would like to meet one of my ancestors who lived in a different time and place – perhaps a great-grandmother – and learn about what life was like for her. I’d love to see and hear her thoughts, feelings, and behavior.
About the Author:
Monica Starkman, M.D., is associate professor of psychiatry emerita and scientific researcher at the University of Michigan Medical School’s Department of Psychiatry. She’s author of the novel The End of Miracles (She Writes Press, 2016), with themes stemming from her extensive professional research into women’s experiences with infertility, pregnancy and labor. As a recognized expert on the effects of stress hormones on mood and brain structure, Monica has been published by dozens of academic journals and several news outlets including The New Republic, Vogue and MariaShriver.com.
Visit her website for more information: https://www.monicastarkmanauthor.com/