As post-modern recovery memoirs go, Betsy Lerners account of compulsive overeating and decades' worth of yo-yo dieting may strike the casual reader as considerably less compelling than, say, Elizabeth Wurtzels similarly toned though far more solipsistic and seemingly endless diary of her affair with Ritalin, Now, More, Again.(The editor of Wurtzels breakthrough Gen X memoir, Prozac Nation, Lerner figured prominently as a character in the sequel.) Lerners admission that, "I am powerless over Hostess cakes, and my life has become unmanageable," may not seem to equate with the far more harrowing revelations recounted in so many gripping first-person dependency confessionals. But there are potentially hundreds of thousands of readers (both men and women, though there is a bit of a Bridget Jones-like assumption here that Lerner is writing primarily for the former) with whom the author will strike many a poignant chord as she charts a lifelong battle with her weight. She takes us from those all-too-familiar and universally mortifying school days (the book opens in 1972, when Lerner was a 12-year-old being weighed in front of her sixth-grade class in the gymnasium), through twentysomething years filled with sadness, unrequited love, and a pioneering membership in Overeaters Anonymous, to a bout with suicidal depression that resulted in a six-month stay at New York State Psychiatric Institute. Like Wurtzel, Lerner is at her best when she is turning her sarcastic and unsparing sense of humor on herself. ("In college, when I first encountered Descartes, it took me no time to translate his famous dictum into something I could relate to: I weigh x, therefore I am shit," she writes.) But she also shares with her celebrated protégé a recurring confusion between trying to relate with her readers via unflinching honesty and simply sharing too much uninteresting or irrelevant information. --Jim DeRogatis
From Publishers Weekly
Lerner's first book, The Forest for the Trees: An Editor's Advice to Writers, offered funny and frank talk from a publishing professional. In this follow-up memoir she reveals her lifelong struggle with compulsive eating and mental illness. A literary agent and former editor, Lerner joined Overeaters Anonymous at age 15 and rigorously adopted the 12-step program. A year later, she was prescribed lithium, though side effects soon forced her to quit the drug. Unmedicated and with an insensitive therapist, Lerner began her inevitable descent. While enrolled in the M.F.A. program at Columbia University, she came close to committing suicide, and this desperate act led to her voluntary admittance to the psych ward at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. Her experience there and at the New York State Psychiatric Institute is the heart of this sincere book. Lerner's descriptions of fellow patients and hospital staff, the day-to-day routine of "the bin" and her therapy sessions are poignant and darkly comic; she emerges months later with a keen understanding of the psychology that drove her there and a newfound desire to live. In her epilogue Lerner writes: "It took a lifetime of tomorrows struggling with the scale and severe mood swings before I was accurately diagnosed and properly treated." Neither happened in the hospital. According to Lerner's current doctor, "All [she] needed was lithium" (albeit, an adjusted dosage); hospitalization was a "waste." Whether or not readers agree with this assessment-and Lerner herself has doubts-her lament is a triumph.-- needed was lithium" (albeit, an adjusted dosage); hospitalization was a "waste." Whether or not readers agree with this assessment-and Lerner herself has doubts-her lament is a triumph.
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