If you are lucky enough to have come of age in a time when seeking treatment for anxiety is akin to, say, visiting a dermatologist for acne, you might have some trouble getting your bearings in “Commitment,” Mona Simpson's generously proportioned, gently powerful seventh novel. But if you grew up among people who whispered certain words — remember Mare Winningham's mother in “St. Elmo's Fire,” lowering her voice to say “cancer”? — then this story of three siblings fending for themselves in the 1970s after their mother enters a psychiatric hospital will demonstrate how far we've come in our conversations about mental health. (Though still not far enough.) Diane Aziz is a single mother, nurse and gentle soul whose entire being skips like a warped record after her older son, Walter, leaves for college. She stops buying food, quits vacuuming, doesn't go to work, and eventually stops getting out of bed. “But what was she resting from, exactly?” Walter wonders when he returns to Los Angeles from Berkeley to check on his younger siblings, Lina and Donnie. None of the Azizes have the language to talk about what's happening, nor does Diane's friend Julie, a fellow nurse and old friend who puts her own life on hold so she can help. The siblings' thrice-married father is out of the picture. Other adults take an interest in the family but most maintain a polite distance that would have been customary at the time. Cue averted […]
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