His Bright Light: The Story of Nick Traina
His Bright Light: The Story of Nick Traina is a mother’s memoir about the life and death of her son. Published in 1998, the book provides considerable insight regarding the impact of mental illness on a young man and those who love him. Nick Traina was eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and there seems to be little doubt that he also suffered from attention deficit disorder. He committed suicide at the age of nineteen by means of a drug overdose. This mother says she wrote the book to honor and remember her son. She adds, “I want to share the story, and the pain, and the courage, the love, and what I learned in living it”. Subsequently in the same passage, the author expresses her desire to “make a difference” in the lives of others who suffer from bipolar disorder, as well as their family members. Thus, the reader is prepared – or some might say “set up” – to read a sad but poignant story about Mother Love, undying devotion to a disabled child, and so on. Though other reviewers might disagree strongly with the opinions contained herein, this reader finds no evidence whatsoever of maternal devotion. The purpose of the current review, however, is to examine His Bright Light and assess the contribution made to lay understanding of mental illness, particularly bipolar disorder. In the process, the actions and motives of the author will necessarily be addressed as well.
The mother who authored this book is not some nameless woman whose personal tragedy evoked a need to tell the sad story of her son’s illness. Rather, the book was written by well-known romance novelist Danielle Steele. And, certainly, it reads in places like the novels for which she is more famous. Steele confides that Nick had always been very different from others his age. By his mother’s account, he was unusually brilliant and talented and lovable. He reportedly spoke in complete sentences by one year of age. In fact, Nick heard how extraordinary he was with such regularity that when asked his name, he typically replied, “I’m Incredible”. Though the photographs included in the book show an attractive baby, there is no obvious physical distinctiveness. His mother, however, speaks repeatedly of his being exceptionally handsome. Additionally, Steele proclaims again and again that Nick was absolutely devoted to her and thought that she was simply the most fantastic human being imaginable – and the author insists that this feeling was completely mutual. One can certainly “forgive” such biased statements, even when the story does not end sadly as does this one. However, in this particular case, the hyperbole is a “warning” that all that lies ahead may not be reliable.