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The Education of Mrs. Bemis [Hardcover]

John Sedgwick
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 26 2002
Powerful, elegant, moving, and suspenseful --
the drama of an aged Boston matriarch's
unlikely bond with her young caregiver and
the buried secrets that haunt her

Meet Madeline Bemis, dowager of one of Boston's oldest Brahmin families: gracious, distinguished, refined. Meet Dr. Alice Matthews, resident psychiatrist at the Montrose Psychiatric Hospital: young, smart, passionate, and desperately in search of her own identity. When Alice finds the elderly Mrs. Bemis curled up on a bed in Filene's furniture department, suffering from an apparent breakdown, she immediately wants to help, and arranges to have Mrs. Bemis brought to Montrose.

As her therapist, Alice is soon probing deeper into Mrs. Bemis's past than she ever expected, pushing the formidable woman to reveal her shadowy psychological history. Through memories and dreams, Alice and Mrs. Bemis begin to piece together a heartbreaking saga, replete with shameful secrets and forgotten sorrows, that reaches all the way back to the 1940s, and turns out to be unexpectedly linked to a recent unsolved murder. The two women are drawn to each other in a way that goes far beyond the ordinary doctor-patient relationship, and as their intimacy deepens, Alice realizes that Mrs. Bemis's recovery -- and perhaps even her safety -- depends on her coming to terms with her secret history.

In the tradition of Susan Minot's Evening and Anna Quindlen's One True Thing, The Education of Mrs. Bemis is a mesmerizing and riveting story of friendship, murder, and romance, beautifully told and ultimately redemptive.


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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

The personal values of what could be called Upper Boston are as important as the two main characters Mrs. Bemis and Alice Matthews, the young psychiatrist who tries to help her in journalist and author Sedgwick's engaging and warm if finally confounding novel. Since Madeline Bemis is 76 when Dr. Matthews finds her curled up almost catatonic on a bed in Filene's department store, it's obvious that treating her will involve considerable backtracking. Equally obvious is that these two women one from a working-class family in a rust-belt town, the other imperious and rigid after a lifetime in the Brahmin precincts will find commonalities in the process. When she was 18, Madeline was engaged to a bomber copilot stationed in England during WWII. Waiting at home for her life to begin, she had an affair with an Irish gardener who left her pregnant. She was sent away to have the baby and give him up for adoption. When her fiance returned, permanently disabled, they settled into a remote marriage. Sedgwick (The Dark House) creates a striking portrait of Mrs. Bemis's time and place, as well as of likable but insecure Dr. Matthews, who is battling her own professional and emotional problems. The plotting is less assured, with a central mystery that's resolved in a melodramatic fashion, but the narrative succeeds as an appealing story of a shared journey.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Sedgwick's second novel is not dissimilar in theme to his first (The Dark House, 2000)--that is, the mysteries trapped within each of us crying to be let out. The Mrs. Bemis in question is an elderly, aristocratic lady who is discovered collapsed on a mattress in Filene's in Boston in a catatonic state, resulting in her being sent to a psychiatric hospital. Psychologist Alice Matthews takes a keen interest in getting Mrs. Bemis' trust, the better to unravel her story. But the irony is that the title could just as easily have been The Education of Alice Matthews, as in breaking through to the heart of her patient, Alice discovers much about her own failed relationship and, ultimately, her true love. Lest one get the idea that this is simply a high-class soap opera, there is a mystery at the heart of Mrs. Bemis' story that remains unresolved up until the last several pages. Sedgwick is able to demonstrate gracefully that between the generations there is much more in common than most might realize. Allen Weakland
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting story mangled by poor plotlines Aug. 4 2003
Format:Paperback
This book has tremendous potential--delving into the life of an elderly woman who's shown up at an insane asylum in a near-catatonic state. But what ruins the story is, quite simply, the writing. Characters--such as Alice's violent boyfriend--surface once, have their dramatic moment, and then never return again. This seems to be a trend in the execution of this book. Sedgwick frequently introduces interesting and dramatic elements, but then leaves them hanging in space and takes the "easy" way out. Thus, the book ends in mid-air, with a lot of loose ends, and not much substance beyond everyday pop psychology. Best to leave this book behind and instead pick up a psycho-thriller like "In the Cut".
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2.0 out of 5 stars Psychiatry - the tabloid version Aug. 22 2002
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
This book was a major disappointment. Flatly written, with editing errors even in the names of medications, this book displayed a depth of ignorance about psychiatry, psychiatrists and contemporary psychotherapy. As an experienced psychiatrist, familiar with McLean, the hospital which is described in the story in slightly disguised form, I can assure the public that junior staff are thoroughly supervised, have no time to run around playing detective and would not be allowed to violate boundaries between professional and personal in the way depicted.
What about poetic or artistic license, you may ask...Well, for that argument you need a work of art, which I would argue this book is not.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A very satisfying read July 30 2002
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
A haunting book, especially parts that are set back in time, when Madeline (Mrs.) Bemis was young during WW II. Gives a wonderful sense of how constraining it must have been in that era, especially for a girl coming from a "good" family. I also like the contemporary relationship between Mrs. Bemis and her therapist, forty years (more?) younger, who's got problems of her own.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.2 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very satisfying read July 30 2002
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
A haunting book, especially parts that are set back in time, when Madeline (Mrs.) Bemis was young during WW II. Gives a wonderful sense of how constraining it must have been in that era, especially for a girl coming from a "good" family. I also like the contemporary relationship between Mrs. Bemis and her therapist, forty years (more?) younger, who's got problems of her own.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable... Jan. 6 2006
By Tracy L. - Published on Amazon.com
I was surprised to see so few reviews of this book on Amazon. I found this to be a very enjoyable book to read. The story flowed nicely and was well told. I came to care about Alice and Madeline as the came to care about each other. There were a few grammatical errors, but nothing that spoiled my enjoyment. I purchased this book at a discount and hope more people will give it a try. I was not the least bit bored by it.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting story mangled by poor plotlines Aug. 4 2003
By B. Bauer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book has tremendous potential--delving into the life of an elderly woman who's shown up at an insane asylum in a near-catatonic state. But what ruins the story is, quite simply, the writing. Characters--such as Alice's violent boyfriend--surface once, have their dramatic moment, and then never return again. This seems to be a trend in the execution of this book. Sedgwick frequently introduces interesting and dramatic elements, but then leaves them hanging in space and takes the "easy" way out. Thus, the book ends in mid-air, with a lot of loose ends, and not much substance beyond everyday pop psychology. Best to leave this book behind and instead pick up a psycho-thriller like "In the Cut".
3.0 out of 5 stars Mystery novel set in an asylum March 29 2014
By Jerusalem Bookworm - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Elegant prose, but the WWII parts have distracting historical errors. The psychiatrist also tramples on a lot of rules without a correspondingly weighty motive.
3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Psychiatry - the tabloid version Aug. 22 2002
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This book was a major disappointment. Flatly written, with editing errors even in the names of medications, this book displayed a depth of ignorance about psychiatry, psychiatrists and contemporary psychotherapy. As an experienced psychiatrist, familiar with McLean, the hospital which is described in the story in slightly disguised form, I can assure the public that junior staff are thoroughly supervised, have no time to run around playing detective and would not be allowed to violate boundaries between professional and personal in the way depicted.
What about poetic or artistic license, you may ask...Well, for that argument you need a work of art, which I would argue this book is not.
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