Media Appearances for Hidden Valley Road and Robert Kolker
“Even if just one child has schizophrenia, everything about the internal logic of that family changes,” journalist Robert Kolker writes in his bestselling book, which traces the plight of a Colorado-based family devastated by the mental disorder. By the mid-1970s, six of the 12 Galvin children had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Kolker traces the family’s suffering in Hidden Valley Road, which focuses on how the Galvins were studied to help better understand the disease. Though so much of the story is rooted in tragedy — abuse, violence, death — Kolker’s voice remains empathetic as he balances breaking down the science behind schizophrenia and describing the gutting details of one family’s unthinkable circumstances.
“The Best Books of 2020 So Far,” May 30, 2020
“A quick skim of writers’ Twitter feeds (including, uh, my own) reveals they can be a self-aggrandizing lot. Not Robert Kolker — though a bit of ego would be justified. Kolker’s first book, Lost Girls, the story of a still-at-large serial killer targeting call girls on Long Island, was acclaimed for its compassionate take on the disappearance of America’s discarded women. It is now a film on Netflix. A story he wrote for New York magazine about a dashing but embezzling school superintendent on Long Island has been made into the HBO film Bad Education, starring Hugh Jackman and premiering on April 25th. His latest book, Hidden Valley Road, the story of a family ravaged by mental illness, was an immediate bestseller upon its release earlier this month, and was chosen by Oprah Winfrey for her book club.
“The essence of Kolker’s success: He possesses multitudes of the empathy gene. A former colleague of mine at New York, he can listen to you drone on and on about your problems, and then unobtrusively offer an observation or question that makes you look at the situation in a different light….”
“Inside the Bestselling Medical Mystery ‘Hidden Valley Road,” April 22, 2020
Robert Kolker’s new book, “Hidden Valley Road,” tells the terrifying story of the Galvins, a large family beset by schizophrenia — six of its 12 children were afflicted with the disease. Among the many fascinating elements of the story, Kolker says on this week’s podcast, is the fate of the family’s two daughers, neither of whom had the disease, and their desire for Kolker to tell the Galvins’ story.
“Beyond the question of how could all this happen to just one family, the real driving question for me in writing the book was: You could’ve walked away from this family at the age of 18, moved to L.A., gone to law school, become a lawyer, sent them Christmas cards once a year and be done with it,” Kolker says of the daughters. “And yet here you are, still part of the mix, still part of this family, still devoted to them in many ways. How does that work? How does that help us understand what it means to go through such trauma? What does it mean to come out the other side of an experience like this? And how did you come out the other side?”
“Robert Kolker Discusses Hidden Valley Road,” April 10, 2010
In many ways, New York Times best-selling author Robert Kolker is a cut above: He’s a New York Times best-selling author, for one. His novel Lost Girls was adapted into a Sundance darling Netflix film. He’s reported on embezzlement in public education, abortion-doctor assassins, Osama Bin Laden experts, and sexual abuse in the Orthodox Jewish community. But there is one glaring trait that he shares with all of us: He screens his phone calls.
It’s this very human reflex that provided with Kolker with a story for the ages when one Oprah Winfrey happened to be on the other end of a screened call….
“Hidden Valley Road,” which has been earning raves culminating in its selection by Oprah’s Book Club Tuesday, braids together the timelines — one chronicling the Galvin family’s growing horror as son after son succumbed to mental illness, the other tracking the scientific controversies over the origins of the illness itself. “It really became a history of debates, all centering on … nature versus nurture,” said Kolker. “’Is it genetics or is it trauma’ — or in another era, ‘Is it brain chemistry or is it bad parenting?’ It’s always the same debate, but it just shifts a little in each generation.”
“These are challenging times, independent of mental illness. I think that this is an example of a family that really experienced not just one but two or three or four different horrors all at once and came out the other side. It’s about not turning inward when the worst happens in life, it’s about reaching out to each other and understanding the value of family and the value of not closing yourself off to possibilities. I really believe there is a lot of hope and inspiration in this story that people can take away from it independent of mental illness issues.”
In his new book, Hidden Valley Road, Robert Kolker reveals how a family was devastated by the debilitating disease—and became invaluable to scientific research.
“By analyzing the family’s genetic makeup, researchers are on the cusp of making significant advances in treatment, prediction and even prevention,” says author Robert Kolker, who meticulously chronicles the Galvin’s story—with the help of the nine living family members—in the new book.
As with Lost Girls, once again you have a story where there isn’t a definitive answer: Despite what researchers have learned from the Galvins’ DNA, we still don’t really know what causes schizophrenia or even, really, what it is. In such cases, is finding a central character or characters the key to deciding if you have a book or not?
I think it is. I’m not primarily an ideas writer. And I’m not primarily a stylist or a pundit. And while I’ve done investigative reporting, I don’t think I’m the world’s greatest investigative reporter. I connect with a story by writing about the people. Telling the people’s stories helps me arrive at the ideas I want to get across and it motivates me to research the science and the background. It makes me a better investigator to walk in the footsteps of the people in the book.