Saturday, March 20, 2010

Well Enough Alone, by Jennifer Traig

Last night my middle child woke me up from a deep sleep. She stood over my bed, mute, a confused look on her face. And then she was gone. I knew something was wrong, although I had no idea what it could have been. I flung off my covers and ran down the hall looking for her. After a step or two, understanding reached my ears, as I heard a thunderous heaving coming from the bathroom. What followed, well, let's just say it brought to mind both Linda Blair and a fire hose.
Which is such a lame segueway into Well Enough Alone, Jennifer Traig's story of her hypochondria. Still, sick is sick, whether the malady is a real stomach flu or an imagined Guillan-Barre syndrome.
Traig's first mental illness, obsessive-compulsive disorder, proved great grist for her writerly impulses. She has penned several "How-to" craft books, putting to good use her restless energy and empty orange juice containers. Her first memoir, Devil in the Details, gave us our first glimpse into her mind as she details her girlhood, driven to distraction, counting, praying, and washing. From my perspective, Traig is saner than a lot of us. She has an endless humor and an unending generosity with herself as she looks at her mental illness in a way that is refreshingly and unflinchingly honest without being the least bit whiny.

Jennifer's story continues in Well Enough Alone. This quirky memoir examines her hypochondria, enriching the narrative by giving us a wealth of fascinating information about the history of this condition, as well as by detailing many of the ways it manifests. Each chapter begins with a black and white reproduction of a grotesque disease of yesteryear, usually dermatological and disgusting, as if to say: this is what I was convinced I suffered from today! Never has mental illness been so funny. Traig includes an appendix with headings such as: Handy Phrases for the Hypochondriac Traveler as Translated Somewhat Unreliably on my Computer, Ten Horrible Diseases and the Chances You Already Have One of Them, and a Fruit/Tumor Comparison Chart.

So, you might ask, where are all the Jewishly-related books I promised to review? I think of this memoir as a Jewish book because there are so many Jewish hypochondriacs! One might suspect in is in the genes. Honestly, I can't think of any of my Jewish friends (and I don't exclude myself from this group) who doesn't have an Aunt Goldie or Uncle Moshe who, despite having a lot of worry and a dressing table full of prescription bottles, has nothing really wrong with them.
The best part of Well Enough Alone is the happy ending, where, once on Prozac, Traig's symptoms go away and she meets her intended, ending up not alone. Couldn't have happened to a nicer author.
Gotta go. I'm expecting a call from my doctor about this rash on my forearm that looks suspiciously like leprosy....

1 comment:

  1. Oh, I loved the whole whimsy of this review. Expecially your opening segue. Which was hardly lame. Have to find out if the book is as fun as the review.