Get Alert
Please Wait... Processing your request... Please Wait.
You must sign in to sign-up for alerts.

Please confirm that your email address is correct, so you can successfully receive this alert.

Book Reviews   |    
Sad Stories of the Death of Kings

Sad Stories of the Death of Kings
by by Barry Gifford.; New York, Seven Stories Press, 2010, 224 pages, $16.95

Reviewed by Roger Peele, M.D.; Humaira Siddiqi, M.D.
Psychiatric Services 2011; doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.00621517a
View Author and Article Information

The reviewers report no competing interests.

Dr. Peele is with the Montgomery County Government, Rockville, Maryland.
Dr. Siddiqi is with Crisis and Emergency Services, District of Columbia Department of Mental Health, Washington, D.C.

text A A A

This book reminded us that when providing supportive psychotherapy to patients who have collected a long list of injustices, we like to discuss the following proverb with them: “The heat that melts the butter hardens the egg.”

Roy, born in 1946, grows up in an immigrant-filled part of Chicago, the same year and location as experienced by author Barry Gifford. The book begins when Roy is 11 years old and chronicles his growth through 42 stand-alone vignettes, each two to six pages long. Chicago is described as a place of snow, cold rains, or muggy weather in which Roy's adventures usually begin on the street, among friends. In the vignettes, we get to know briefly people who die of homicide or suicide or who are put away in psychiatric wards or jails. Most are luckless. Most smoke.

One vignette has Roy sneaking into a run-down strip joint in the early hours for the last numbing feature, a middle-aged stripper being introduced thusly: “And now, for the delicious not to mention the pleasure of you gentlemen out there, direct from Paris—that's a burg in southern Illinois—guaranteed to raise your spirits if nothing else, the proud proprietor of the best breasts in the Middle West, Miss May Flowers.” Miss Flowers appears on stage and strips lifelessly before a couple dozen semicomatose patrons without raising anything. After the show, coming out of her dressing room, she sees Roy and asks him to light a cigarette for her because her hands are full, one holding a bag with her outfit and the other a bag with her wig. After he has torched the cigarette for her, she tells him, “Don't you end up like these bums come in this dive don't do nothin' but tell each other sad stories of the death of Kings,” apparently referring to Shakespeare's Richard II:

“For God's sake let us sit on the ground

And tell sad stories of the death of kings.”

Each story, told without anger or patronizing, beautifully captures the times of Chicago in the late 1950s and early 1960s and tells of many people meeting their fate at an early age.

Besides many a death in his world, Roy has to adjust to gruesome events, harshness, and disillusionments. By the time he reaches adulthood, Roy is a very hard egg.




CME Activity

There is currently no quiz available for this resource. Please click here to go to the CME page to find another.
Submit a Comments
Please read the other comments before you post yours. Contributors must reveal any conflict of interest.
Comments are moderated and will appear on the site at the discertion of APA editorial staff.

* = Required Field
(if multiple authors, separate names by comma)
Example: John Doe

Related Content
The American Psychiatric Publishing Textbook of Substance Abuse Treatment, 4th Edition > Chapter 49.  >
Dulcan's Textbook of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry > Chapter 63.  >
Dulcan's Textbook of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry > Chapter 63.  >
Dulcan's Textbook of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry > Chapter 40.  >
The American Psychiatric Publishing Textbook of Psychopharmacology, 4th Edition > Chapter 62.  >
Topic Collections
Psychiatric News
APA Guidelines