Sunday, October 29, 2017

You Don't Have to Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie

The latest from Alexie, a memoir, may be the author at, to coin a phrase, his Alexie-est. It is infuriating, repetitive, whiny, overbearing and we've heard much of it before. It is self-serving, self-centered, self-indulgent, and self-absorbed. It is Alexie at his worst.

But, and seemingly as ever, it is beautifully written and painfully raw. It is unnervingly tender, bravely confessional, absurdly funny, and utterly heart-breaking. It is Alexie at his best. 

Having followed his career since first reading him in the second incarnation of Story magazine, regular Reed-ers know how much I love his work. This latest is an exploration of the difficult relationship between himself and his mother, Lillian. There is much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments along with the plaintive wail of "Mommy didn't love me!". Often, it appears she didn't. 

One passage describes their relationship this way:
" her son and perhaps her most regular opponent, I only remember a little bit of my mother's kindness and almost everything about her coldness.

Did she love me? Did my mother love me? When I gather up all the available evidence, I have to say, "Yes, Lillian Alexie loved Sherman Alexie, Jr." But I can only render that verdict with reasonable doubts. "  

There are statements like this throughout the book. 
To me, this was Alexie actively grieving before my eyes and in my hands. He hurts.

There is also a physical component to all the mental anguish as he delves deeply into his own health issues (born with hydrocephalus, he suffered a host of maladies the reservation was ill-equipped to help with) and the very painful stories of repeated sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of people he knew well throughout his childhood. Nor does he let us forget the culture of racism, poverty, alcoholism, and violence that was ever-present. 

Telling these stories repeatedly in public led the author to curtail his book tour this summer. Rehashing all this pain became too much for him to bear mentally and physically. When I read of this, my heart ached for him. 

You Don't Have to Say You Love Me is no easy read nor is it a how-to in healthy suffering. To some, it might even be perceived as the author dropping the mic and walking away like all the kids do these days. However, those familiar with him know he could NEVER live without an audience or cease telling stories. All I can wish is that Alexie finds solace or a measure of peace sooner than later. 

And if you can, call your Mom. 

Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson

Author Jon Ronson has been popping up on podcasts I've listened to for years and I'm generally enthralled by the stories he tells. Too, his soft-spoken, sing-song English accent never fails to grab me so at last, I'm reading his work. 

To be honest, I read this particular title in order to help determine if a person in my life is actually a psychopath. While I have my suspicions, I wanted to learn more about psychopathy in order to make my own unqualified assessment and then be all judge-y and shit. 

In fact, this same idea is among the reasons Ronson wrote the book: he became aware of a man who faked his way into a mental hospital to avoid prison and who then couldn't get out. From there, Ronson learns of Dr. Robert Hare and his psychopath test: 20 questions that have become a standard in diagnosing psychopathy (I'm skipping over how the book starts with an odd story about random academics who receive copies of a custom, cryptic book since you pretty much can ignore that).

As Ronson  applies his newfound knowledge, he starts seeing psychopaths everywhere and this is a fellow who certainly knows how to find people who are, shall we say, a bit off. In fact, he feels so empowered by this wee bit of knowledge that, as the book goes on, he recognizes the Hale test might be too broad to be consistently correct. He also learns those with psychopathic tendencies are less often the homicidal maniacs that we've come to associate with the term but quite often leaders in government and business. It seems psychopathy lends itself to this personality type. Are they all nuts or just misunderstood? Tough call. 

Ultimately, what I believe Ronson learned by writing The Psychopath Test is that while someone may indeed be a psychopath, it isn't for him to decide. Same goes for me. As Alexander Pope said, "A little learning is a dangerous thing".