Monday, June 5, 2023

Girls and Their Monsters

Girls and Their Monsters: The Genain Quadruplets and the Making of Madness in America by Audrey Clare Farley
6/13/23; 304 pages
Grand Central Publishing

Girls and Their Monsters: The Genain Quadruplets and the Making of Madness in America by Audrey Clare Farley is a highly recommended account of the Morlok quadruplets.

The four girls were born in 1930 in Lansing, Michigan to parents Carl and Sadie Morlok. The girls, Edna, Helen, Sarah and Wilma, were portrayed as part of a perfect family and even performed dancing and singing on stage for awhile. Behind closed doors, however, the girls were subjected to a turbulent home life and frequently cruel treatment from abusive and controlling parents. Their public image remained untarnished as the family made sure it was always portrayed as spotless.

By 1954 all four women, now 24, were diagnosed with schizophrenia. Researchers at the newly formed National Institute of Mental Health wanted to study the genetics of the mental illness and once they learned about the Morlok quadruplets they immediately included them as part of their research. They were given the "Genain" surname pseudonym during research projects to protect their identities. Their research was not quite as straightforward as they hoped because it became clear that both genetic and environmental factors played a role in the mental health of the Morloks.

Farley expands the account by including mid-century cultural factors, the background and practices of the psychologists involved, the exploitation of children, and other historical factors of the times. The story of the Morloks is compelling and horrifying. The background and extraneous historical and cultural information is not as interesting and not all of it was applicable to their story. There were several passages late in the account that had no association with the Morloks or their experiences and were more opinions on current cultural topics. Some of the things Farley attempted to associate with the Morloks did not apply to their situation.

The historical account involving the Morloks and mid-century psychology is interesting, horrifying, and powerful. This is what makes Girls and Their Monsters worth reading and what calls forth the comparison to Hidden Valley Road. There is some extraneous information and opinions which occur late in the narrative which should have been edited out.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Grand Central Publishing via NetGalley.

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