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Little Panic: Dispatches from an Anxious Life Hardcover – June 19, 2018
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"In this canny, insightful, novelistic memoir, Amanda Stern traces the indelible path her underlying anxiety has traced in a rich but often frustrated life. It's a book about her emergence into and acceptance of mature identity, but it is also about the danger of love, the maze of social pressure, and the tension between childhood expectations and adult realities. Narrating with real poignance how every experience she's had has been filtered through her psychic vulnerability, she achieves a symphony of complex fragilities and redeeming strengths."―Andrew Solomon, National Book Award-winning author of Far From the Tree
"Little Panic is an intimate and sweeping story of hyper-vigilance. Cheeky and vivid and transporting, it's also extremely funny. Stern's book conveys just how isolating mental illness really is, how it creates almost a second existence for those who suffer it. As I read it I had the sense of someone living underwater, watching the world going on effortlessly above. I was swept up. I spend my life hoping to find books like this."―Sarah Manguso, author of 300 Arguments: Essays
"With courage and a keen sense of humor, Little Panic delves beneath the surface of the terms, tests, and judgements we apply to our mental existence in order to recover the experiential richness buried beneath. Readers will recognize themselves in Stern's psychological coming-of-age, keenly empathetic and vibrantly felt."―Alexandra Kleeman, author of You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine
"Brave, in the truest sense of the word, Amanda Stern's Little Panic is a document of survival of the fittest. This is the book for anyone-who has dropped a beat, a week or a year, feeling afraid not just of the dark, but of life, of being left alone in this world. A haunting story of the impact of time and place-the backdrop of Etan Patz's vanishing, New York in the 1970s-split between parents and worlds, struggling to find a place of her own. Little Panic is a stunning reminder of what it is to be human."―A. M. Homes, bestselling author of The Mistress's Daughter and Days of Awe
"Amanda Stern sees childhood with perfect clarity, and she sees how we, as adults, are still living in childhood. Little Panic will make you feel alot. Without a doubt, it is a masterpiece."―Darin Strauss, author of Half a Life
"Stern has succeeded in writing an often-funny tale about mental illness....A good reminder that all people, including those who "learn differently," need empathy and human connection."―Booklist
About the Author
Amanda Stern is the author of the novel The Long Haul and the nine book Frankly Frannie middle grade series. Since 2003, she has helmed the Happy Ending Reading series and she's been a NYFA Fiction Fellow and held residencies at the MacDowell Colony and Yaddo. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, New York Times Magazine, Salon, Post Road and St. Ann's Review.
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The book could have done with fewer examples of psychological tests and evaluations of Amanda. Frankly it would achieve its purpose at half of its current length. . I am reviewing a pre-publication copy and hope that changes are made before final publication..
Horses? Fortress? It feels as though she's trying, a little too hard, for a Glass Castle vibe, but Jeannette Walls she is not. And although the writing settles down over the next chapters, it's a long meandering piggyback ride through the life of an overprivileged resident of Greenwich Village. The chapters alternate between her childhood years, roughly age 8 through college, and her adult life, where she makes a series of bad choices. Self-awareness is lacking, and as a result, she finds herself in her 40s without the family she thought she always wanted. The final chapter, which sums up her takeaways, returns to the overwrought writing -- the title of this review is from that chapter -- but most readers will be so relieved to have arrived at the book's final destination that they'll forgive her for her shallow philosophizing.
For a book like this to work, the reader has to empathize, at least somewhat, with the writer, and preferably find her somewhat likable. As someone with lifelong anxiety issues, I'm particularly drawn to hearing about the experiences of others, but despite the title, that's not what Stern provides. Instead, we hear what it's like to grow up as a spoiled, indulged private school student who isn't expected to contribute or accomplish much and who lacks even a mote of insight into the behavior of others as well as herself. I vacillated between disliking her for her constant whining and hating her for abusing a dog she adopted off Petfinder, apparently without any knowledge about what dogs require, deciding she needed a pet solely to fill the hole created by a desire for family.
Along the way we hear about life in the Village in the 80s (best part of the book), mean girls, infatuated guys-- including at least one stalker, drug addiction, and learning disabilities. There are way too many pages devoted to a relationship that had red flags all over it. Interspersed between chapters are carefully selected quotes from the various doctors who tested her. It's her way of emphasizing what a messed-up child she was, but instead I saw a lot of people reaching out to help her, starting with helicopter mom, and she was way too busy playing the victim to hear what others were trying to communicate. Even though she's now, by my reckoning, close to 50, she still doesn't seem to get it. Nope, and I hope this isn't a huge spoiler for anyone, she decided that the road to salvation lay in adopting another mutt.
About the "anxious life" -- here's my theory: she wrote an autobiography, and was told that it was too bland, that she needed a hook. Thus she added a few snippets of anxiety (notably comments by testers that she "seemed anxious") and reframed this as a book about anxiety, since apparently that is trendy right now. But if she was diagnosed and treated at age 25, why is her life still such a mess 15+ years later? Poor writing camouflaged with false advertising: not very appealing to me. Readers who want a personal account that's provocative, insightful, and funny (ie, everything this book is not) may prefer to pick up a copy of My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind