Monday, May 19, 2014

The Lighter Side of Agony

One of my tweeps, @thekellijane, edited and published her blog detailing four-and-a-half years of her life struggling with, well, life, but specifically life with fibromyalgia (and though she never knew it during that time, celiac) and I told her I would make it my business to see that she had an additional review on Amazon by the end of the week.

I'm writing and posting it here as well because Amazon silently discarded a review I wrote twice, and I spend a long freaking time on writing reviews. It pissed me off so much, I pretty much stopped reviewing. (I was a top 1000 reviewer for quite some time, though not through any concerted attempt to become so. I think they're better now about not just throwing stuff out but I'm less entertained by the notion of providing free content for them.)

Funny. Weird. Disjointed. Surreal. Moving. Inspirational. Sad. Enthusiastic. Human.

The Lighter Side of Agony is a book based on four-and-a-half years of blog entries written by the author, KJ Adan, a woman in her 30s living in Nevada, detailing her discovery and management of fibromyalgia. That's my third-grade-book-report-style-summary; it's much trickier to nail the experience of LSoA down.

The epistolary autobiography, the diary, the author who interacts with an unseen audience all have a long tradition in literature, and this blog-book neatly encapsulates those traditions, with several strange and interesting twists.

Probably the least strange element is simply KJ's writing style, which is breezy and almost whimsical, except that it belies a kind of underlying intensity. You can get a sense of it quickly by reading a few sample pages: the author has a voice. Nothing non-descript here.

But she's going through this thing with her health. And by "thing" I mean excruciating pain and semi-fugue states, to say nothing of a ingesting a variety medications. This results in sudden sharp shifts of the topic under discussion—though curiously with no loss in intensity.

Not a few times, detailed descriptions of her dreams become the central topic but, unlike most airy-fairy dream journals, these are vivid depictions of literal actions (no real symbolism here). This lends a decidedly surreal aspect to the proceedings.

It's probably not quite right to call it "literary pointillism" but that's how I felt after the first few entries when a clear picture began to emerge.

A remarkable thing to me about this work is that while it's personal, even intimate, and while it's about the author's foibles and the foibles of those around her, it's remarkably free of gossip and luridness. This is refreshing, and to my mind, a major strong point.

The book has a lot of strong points: KJ's writing style, as mentioned; the characters and events seem real (presumably because they are); and some epic ranting that reveal a young woman full of contradiction and confusion. It feels honest and, even as it is chock-full of grand ambitions, ultimately humble.

Also humbling. Although she's quick to point out that many have it worse, it's impossible not to admire the ambition and joie de vivre, even, of someone who treats her energy and ability that the rare gift it is.

There are some weaknesses, at least for me. It took me a while to learn how to read the context properly: The proper names used are largely nicknames, and there are actually quite a few characters here that make only few (or just one) appearance.

More on context: This whole work is completely saturated in pop culture. More than once I found myself doing a web-search to try to get oriented. And I'm not that much different in age than KJ, though I know nothing of her music, and little of the TV shows and games she mentions.

But if the pop culture is challenging, the medical billing culture is even moreso. Fortunately there's much less of this. And ultimately, I just had to learn to let go and go with the flow.

I couldn't always do this. Some typos and malaprops were left in to give the sense of the dysfunction caused by KJ's condition. Well, sometimes this worked. Other times it just annoyed me and jarred me out of the story. (I will never get used to "as is my want" versus "as is my wont".)

I wanted a stronger narrative. It's not that kind of book, but there were so many threads that started out strong and don't wrap up neatly. (What happened with the Vitamin D? With Tom? With the plans for the movie where Vincent D'Onofrio kills a hooker?) This is realistuc—how many things do we all pursue that seem interesting at first but go nowhere?—but probably more realism than I want.

It's not really in the same category, but I found the relationship with her fiance profoundly sad. KJ gives herself no quarter on the girlfriend front: she's quite overweight and no fun, and there are entries where she's completely pissed at him, often followed by entries of utter love and devotion. It can't have been easy to deal with.

But you are supposed to deal with such things. As an adult. If for no other reason than an understanding of how often shoes end up on other feet. 'nuff said.

Probably the most fun aspect for me were the rants (which I'm also prone to). It's not that I agreed with them, it's how they often didn't agree with themselves. Summed up perfectly with this:
Every time I reach a point in my life where I feel I've had an epiphany, I make a note of it in some kind of journal or blog. And then I look at it later, & think, "God, what was I talking about? I was still a moron then !" So, five years from now, I will realize I was a moron at 33, too. I hope so. If not, it will mean I didn't learn squat.
I'm sure this was most pointedly left in as she edited LSoA, especially given the post-scripts.

In the end, this is a unique view into a weird little world largely populated by cool, fun people, one of whom has some crippling health problems—which is way better than a book about a disease.

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