Book Review – Thirty Rooms to Hide In

Book Review
Thirty Rooms to Hide In
Luke Longstreet Sullivan

“‘The Shining… but funnier.’

That’s about the best way I can describe Thirty Rooms To Hide In. It’s the story of growing up with my five brothers in a big house in Minnesota. Yet even with winters raging outside and our father raging within, our mother’s protection allowed us to have a wildly fun, thoroughly dysfunc-tional time growing up in the 1950s and ‘60s.” 

~ Luke Longstreet Sullivan


I rarely enjoy memoirs, so it was with no little amount of reservation that I began reading Thirty Rooms to Hide In at the suggestion of one of my Facebook Friends, who mentioned that it was her book club’s current selection and that she just “couldn’t put it down.”  Probably I would’ve let the suggestion go at simply that – a suggestion – but then she mentioned that it was not just a memoir; but the memoir of a child who’d grown up in Rochester and who’s father was a Mayo Clinic orthopedic surgeon.  And then I realized:  the family had lived in one of those gorgeous homes that so many of the Mayo doctors lived in!  Wow!  What would it be like to live in one of those homes?  What would it be like to grow up in one of those homes?  With that, I was sold.  I had to read this book just to satisfy my voyeuristic nature, if nothing else.

To my surprise, this book was very well-done and much like the author had tagged it – “The Shining…but funnier.” But, unlike my expectations, it wasn’t “funnier” in a comedic way; but “funnier” in the way that sometimes you simply have to laugh to survive, kind of way.


Thirty Rooms to Hide In is a memoir by the 5th son of a well-respected 1950s Mayo Clinic surgeon (Dr. Roger Sullivan) who, while brilliant, suffered from severe alcoholism and mental instability.  The onset of his disease was subtle but, once engaged, grabbed ahold of the young doctor and changed the lives of his wife and children forever.


In a time when alcoholism and chemical dependency were not fully understood, and domestic abuse was “between a husband and his wife,” there was no safety net to catch the family as the bottom fell out from beneath their feet at their father and husband’s loss of sanity.


Thirty Rooms to Hide In is a gripping memoir that takes the reader back to the 1950s and ’60s when the rules of society were more repressed, the Cold War was a daily threat, and “sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll” were just beginning to hit the landscape…but not so much in the small and conservative town of Rochester, Minnesota.


Throughout the book, the author vacillates between the rebellious antics of he and his five brothers as they struggled to understand and cope with their father’s behavior, and on their mother – Myra Longstreet Sullivan – who deserves a great deal of credit for the love she brought to their home in spite of the fear and oppression that was their daily lives.  As a reader, I found her to be an inspiration to all mothers on how to not only survive, but to persevere against the most insurmountable odds.


Thirty Rooms to Hide In is a fantastic, though sometimes painful, read; and one I would recommend especially to Rochester readers as it tells the story of “one of our own.”


This book is available at the Rochester Public Library and through SELCO interlibrary loan.  For more information about this book, visit the author’s website dedicated to this book at www.thirtyroomstohidein.com.  There you can find more information about the author’s life, video footage from their youth, letters and diary entries from that era, audio sound bytes of the two oldest brothers’ band, photographs from the author’s youth and the grown men he and his brothers have become today.


~ Catherine H. Armstrong



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