Ann Levin on Mona Simpson’s “Commitment”

Review: Stunning new novel about a family and mental illness

By Ann Levin

“Commitment,” by Mona Simpson (Alfred A. Knopf)

Mona Simpson’s latest novel “Commitment” is a minimalist masterpiece, exploring the large and small ways that a diagnosis of mental illness affects a family. In a story utterly devoid of car crashes, murders, abductions and explosions, Simpson bears down on the truly important questions about life — home, work, love and family.

At the center of the novel is Diane Aziz, a single mother struggling to raise three kids on a nurse’s salary in Los Angeles in the 1970s. She has lied to get them into an exclusive public high school in the Pacific Palisades, and it has paid off big for her two older children, Walter and Lina.

When the novel begins, it is 1972, and Walter has just enrolled at UC-Berkeley. Soon after that, Diane spirals into a deep depression and is admitted to a state mental hospital. At that point, her best friend, Julie, a colleague at work, steps up to take care of Lina and younger brother Donnie.

Lina, who is still in high school, works at an ice cream parlor to help pay the bills and dreams of going to college “back east” with her swanky girlfriends. Donnie, a charmer who lacks the academic skills of his older siblings, falls into an aimless life of computers, comic books and hanging out on the beach, where he eventually develops an addiction to drugs. Read the full piece at the Seattle Times.

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