The Other Mrs. Smith
a novel by Bonnie Burstow

440 Pages
October 23, 2017
New Fiction All Titles Novel



The Other Mrs. Smith a novel by Bonnie Burstow

This novel traces the life experiences of a once highly successful woman who falls prey to electroshock and subsequently struggles to piece back together her life. Naomi suffers enormous memory loss; additionally, an estrangement from her family of origin that she has no way to wrap her mind around. The novel begins with her wandering the corridor of St. Patricks-St Andrews Mental Health Centre (St. Pukes) faced with the seemingly impossible challenge of coming to terms with the damage done her, as well uncovering the hidden details of her life. It moves back and forth between a relatively happy childhood in the legendary north-end Winnipeg of the mid-1900s and post-ECT adulthood in Toronto. An exceptionally kind man named Ger who befriends Naomi comes to suspect that important pieces of the puzzle of what befell her lurk beneath the surface of writing in a binder of hers, which comes to be known as Black Binder Number Three. What Naomi progressively comes to do, often with Ger's help and just as often with the help of a very different and eerily similar sister named Rose, is find ways to do justice to her life and to the various people in it. Filled with a vast array of colourful and insightful characters from a variety of communities—Toronto¹s Kensington Market of the 1970s, the 1970's trans community, north-end Winnipeg Jewry, and the ingenious and frequently hilarious mad community—this novel sensitizes us to the horror of electroshock, takes us to new levels in our understanding of what it means to be human, and, in the process, leads us to question the very concept of normalcy. 

"Bonnie Burstow's The Other Mrs. Smith is a first rate, emotionally powerful novel.  Her writing is vivid and personal, spiced with pungent Jewish expressions. The scenes with Winnipeg's North End have a life-like, photographic intensity, also important social history. The portrayal of Jewish family relatives is very personally involving, and some of the psychiatric inmates are so sharply sketched, they bring back my own early memories."

—Don Weitz , Toronto psychiatric survivor, social justice activist, and co-editor of Shrink-Resistant

"Forced electroshock left me bereft of my life's purpose, until I spoke out. Though the testimonial facts of the struggle up from brain damage are mine and those of other survivors, this powerful story and the sheer artistry of its handling is all Bonnie. A gem of a novel and a "must-read.""

—Connie Neil, author of Aftershock: Raised Consciousness Crumbles SHAM Psychiatric System

"Burstow's writing style is clear, stark, and informative, allowing the abundance of characters the space to become fully animated. She moves the reader back and forth in time metaphorically strengthening our ability to consider the history of electroshock. Read it to meet the characters and be in these rich Canadian locales. I encourage you to read it to consider how we can better the human condition."

—Spencer J. Harrison, artist, activist, educator at OCAD University

Bonnie Burstow is a professor at the University of Toronto; she is a prolific author, an activist, and one of the world’s leading antipsychiatry theorists. Published books include: Psychiatry and the Business of Madness; Radical Feminist Therapy; and the novel The House on Lippincott. She lives and works in Toronto.

     My name is Naomi, Nomi for short. Not two years ago I was
at a public meeting in Toronto where an aged woman looked
everyone straight in the eye and asked, “After all our years of
service, is this what we have to look forward to?” Two months
later, a far younger woman who is ever so precious to me called
with an urgent request. “Write about everything,” she pleaded.
“Do it for whoever—yourself, me, others at risk. Just do it.”
Hence this curious journey on which we are embarking.
     Now in the sweep of literature, there have been many unusual,
one might even say “oddball” narrators—corpses, the cross on
which Jesus Christ hung, even—and I kid you not—a fish. By
these standards, I am a fairly everyday narrator, for as best I can
make out, I am neither the holy rood nor any kind of fish—well,
leastways not since I last checked. What I am is a sixty-five-yearold
activist with holes in my head and a whopper of a memory
problem. And that is the crux of the matter. But enough said.
     This is one of those stories, you see, best left to unfold on its
own. Like a surprise autumn sunset. Like a murder at dawn. I
would only point out that there are depths here to plumb, truths
to probe. Step into my world, additionally, and you will quickly
find yourself rubbing shoulders with a vast array of some of the
most endearing and fascinating souls that a person could hope
to meet—some housed like Gerald, some from the streets like
my buddy Jack who could always roll the meanest cigarette in
Turtle Island. Ah, but all in good time.
     Now I could begin almost anywhere—when I discovered the
films of Ingmar Bergman, when I fuckin’ rediscovered the films
of Ingmar Bergman—but if I am to trust in that old Spenser
formula, “where it most concerneth me,” there is really only one
place to begin: When I first started crawling out of the void.
When those glimmers of consciousness first came upon me in
the opening days of March 1973:

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