Gorilla and the Bird: A Memoir of Madness and a Mother's Love is a memoir by the American public defender Zack McDermott published in 2017.


Published in 2017, the book discusses McDermott's experience with bipolar disorder and how his mother helped him survive the diagnosis.[1][2] When he checked in to the psychiatric unit of Bellevue Hospital for the first time, McDermott began penning the book.[3] The "Gorilla" in the book's title refers to the nickname his mother gave him because of "his barrel chest and hairy body", while the "Bird" refers to his mother as he cited "her tendency to move her head in these choppy semicircles when her feathers were ruffled".[4] The book's initial printing was 40,000 issues.[2]


The book was "critically acclaimed".[4] In The New York Times, Marya Hornbacher called Gorilla and the Bird "one of the best memoirs I’ve read in years" and said, "the sheer, sharp pleasure of his prose is reason enough to pick it up." She concluded, "With deceptive effortlessness, this book carries the reader through both the peculiar twists and turns of a bipolar mind, and over some complex, shifting terrain in ethics and American life."[1] Writing in The Weekend Australian, Rosemary Neill found the book to be "brutally honest as it is darkly hilarious".[4] Glen Weldon said in NPR that McDermott "chronicles, with an affable and often rueful wit" his experiences with bipolar disorder.[5]

Kirkus Reviews said the book was "decidedly offbeat, unfolding like a country song" and concluded, "If the Joads were tanked up on Bud Light and Haldol and Steinbeck were under Hunter S. Thompson's influence, this might be the result--rueful, funny, and utterly authentic."[6] Emily Reynolds praised the book in The Times Literary Supplement, writing, "Breathless, funny, absurd and often completely inappropriate, it gleefully jumps from place to person to idea, taking on class, race, sex, family and more along the way." She said, "The humour and affection with which McDermott describes both his clients and his fellow psych-ward inmates never veers into mawkishness or pity--a rare quality in literature on this topic."[7]

Television adaptation

Gorilla and the Bird
Based onGorilla and the Bird: A Memoir of Madness and a Mother’s Love
by Zack McDermott
Written byBryan Sipe
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
Executive producers
Production companies
Original networkHBO

Gorilla and the Bird is an upcoming American drama television miniseries based on the memoir of the same name by Zack McDermott. The limited series ordered by HBO was announced on December 10, 2018.[8][9] The series was to be directed by Jean-Marc Vallée prior to his death in December 2021.[10][11][12]

The show's premise: "The limited series follows Zack, a public defender with the Legal Aid Society of New York who suffers a sudden psychotic break that takes him on a harrowing journey of delusions and antisocial behavior, resulting in his arrest and commitment to Bellevue. As he fights to regain his sanity, Zack (the Gorilla) turns to the only person who didn't give up on him—his mother, (the Bird)."[8]


  1. ^ a b Hornbacher, Marya (2018-01-26). "Delving Into the Bipolar Mind". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 2022-06-06. Retrieved 2022-06-06.
  2. ^ a b Hoffert, Barbara (2017-04-01). "Gorilla and the Bird". Library Journal. Vol. 142, no. 6. p. 62. EBSCOhost 122229561. Retrieved 2022-06-06 – via Issuu.
  3. ^ Barcella, Laura (2017-09-26). "'Gorilla and The Bird': Inside New Memoir About Being Bipolar". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on 2022-06-06. Retrieved 2022-06-06.
  4. ^ a b c Neill, Rosemary (2018-04-21). "Zack McDermott's Gorilla and the Bird: A Memoir of Madness". The Weekend Australian. ProQuest 2028997274. Archived from the original on 2022-06-06. Retrieved 2022-06-06.
  5. ^ Weldon, Glen (2017-10-03). "'Mental,' 'Gorilla And The Bird': Two Starkly Different Accounts Of Bipolar Disorder". NPR. Archived from the original on 2022-06-06. Retrieved 2022-06-06.
  6. ^ "Gorilla and the Bird a memoir". Kirkus Reviews. Vol. 85, no. 14. 2017-07-15. p. 178. ISSN 1948-7428. EBSCOhost 124081327. Archived from the original on 2022-06-06. Retrieved 2022-06-06.
  7. ^ Reynolds, Emily (2018-04-27). "Gorilla and the Bird: A memoir of madness and a mother's love". The Times Literary Supplement. Archived from the original on 2022-06-06. Retrieved 2022-06-06 – via Gale.
  8. ^ a b "Jean-Marc Vallee to Direct HBO Limited Series 'Gorilla and the Bird'". The Hollywood Reporter. 10 December 2018.
  9. ^ Andreeva, Nellie (10 December 2018). "HBO Orders 'Gorilla And The Bird' Limited Series From Jean-Marc Vallée, Channing Tatum & Big Beach".
  10. ^ Otterson, Joe (2018-12-10). "Jean-Marc Vallée to Direct 'Gorilla and the Bird' Limited Series at HBO". Variety. Retrieved 2018-12-12.
  11. ^ "HBO ordina Gorilla and the Bird, miniserie di Jean-Marc Vallée". ComingSoon.it (in Italian). Retrieved 2018-12-12.
  12. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr. (December 26, 2021). "Jean-Marc Vallée Has Died; Director Of 'Dallas Buyers Club,' 'Big Little Lies' & 'Sharp Objects' Was 58". Deadline Hollywood. Archived from the original on December 27, 2021. Retrieved December 27, 2021.