Book Review: Are You Here For What I’m Here For?

twitterlogoBRReview by Lisa Spieker.

Brian Booker’s debut novel, Are You Here For What I’m Here For? (Bellevue Literary Press, 2016), leaves the reader with a feeling of vague unease. In seven stories, dislocated and troubled characters suffer from rare illnesses, illnesses that remain mostly unnamed and are quite possibly imagined. Even the most mundane of these afflictions are transformed in the characters’ minds until they take on the uncanny quality and significance that everyday objects acquire in fever dreams: Warts on the hands may evolve into rudimentary eyes. Sneezing will have you put into quarantine, possibly for several years. Unrelenting rain causes moods to fester and “a perilous loosening in the delicate structures of the mind” (190).

27135745Booker’s stories are populated by characters and are set in places that at first seem realistic, but turn out to be just a little off; not much, just enough to set you on edge. There are tramps obsessed with the numerology of dreams, a resort guest with “the air of a ruined southern belle” (87), and an obnoxious harbinger of doom. Some stories are set in spaces of otherness, heterotopias that exist in parallel or on the fringes of society and reality. In “Love Trip,” a teenage boy is sent to a boarding school with all the trappings of a New Age cult inspired by the antipsychiatry movement. Pressured to reveal the secret motivations for mentally unbalanced acts he never quite committed, to give up “the lie behind the lie” (241), the boy elaborately describes an invented childhood trauma but becomes increasingly unsure whether he really made it all up. In the story, “A Drowning Accident,” a boy is send to recover from a mysterious sleeping sickness in an East Coast resort reminiscent of the run-down Coney Island freak show in Alice Hoffman’s The Museum of Extraordinary Things. There, “twice daily in the summer [a deep-sea] net was raised from “The Living Gulfs of Doom,” and whatever cold-blooded monstrosities chanced to have been trapped in that abysmal region were dumped on the planks[…], displayed for all to see” (58). Continue reading “Book Review: Are You Here For What I’m Here For?”

Book Review: Re-Membering

twitterlogoBRReview by Sandra G. Weems

An artist, scholar, and now memoirist, Ann Millett-Gallant casts her personal narrative in collage-like form, assembling a collection of vignettes both textual and visual that invites the reader to step in a bit closer, interpret the disparate elements, and draw larger meaning from the whole. In Re-Membering:  Putting Mind and Body Back Together Following Traumatic Brain Injury (Wisdom House Books, 2016), the author recounts her experiences following the accident that nearly claimed her life, particularly the struggle to piece together her fractured memory. Asserting that her “personal history will never be, and could never be, contained by a linear narrative,” Millett-Gallant has chosen to construct her story in the way she approaches some of her art and conceives of her memory: as a composition of words and images that represent “my ongoing process of integrating the past with present, as well as synthesizing my mental, emotional, and corporeal transformations” (x-xi). Thus, rather than a sustained and closely detailed narrative, the book provides a myriad of glimpses. It comprises four main chapters, plus an introduction and conclusion, each juxtaposing accounts of the author’s recovery with color reproductions and interpretations of her art, discussions of other people’s memoirs, artwork, and scholarly texts, as well as excerpts from journals, emails, medical records, art therapy projects, and other bits of text that, together, provide an alternate view of her life.

32283934The rippling implications of the title, Re-Membering, help Millett-Gallant build her narratorial collage in several ways. First, she must “remember” who she is. Because her accident has damaged her memory, she has struggled to remember vital aspects of her personal and professional identity. Second, Millett-Gallant describes how, as a congenital amputee with unique physical needs, she endured the excruciating musculoskeletal responses that often follow brain injury. Learning again to effectively use her members required extensive physical therapy, multiple refittings of prostheses, and a coming-to-terms with the strength and beauty inherent in her disabled body. A third implied, triumphant meaning in the title is that, as the author contends with these obstacles to her recovery, she discovers newfound strength in old relationships and forges new ones. For example, she overcomes feelings of guilt that help her re-member with her family; she proposes to her boyfriend and becomes a member of a happily married couple. In essence, after prolonged isolation and much hard work, Millett-Gallant emerges into society an altered, but altogether stronger, wiser member who recognizes and embraces her agency. Continue reading “Book Review: Re-Membering”

Book Review: Metamorphosis of Autism

Review by David KilgannontwitterlogoBR

The diagnosis of autistic spectrum disorders has seen a phenomenal increase in the past twenty years. Growing media representation, as seen through works like Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (2003) and Steve Silberman’s Neurotribes (2015), alongside changing social norms now lead more individuals than ever to self-identify as being somewhere “on the spectrum.” Autism has become incorporated within our common parlance for understanding individuality and identity. Yet, this begs the question – how did autism become a spectrum and why has it occupied an increasingly prominent role in our understanding of psychology since the 1960s? In her new book, The Metamorphosis of Autism: A history of child development in Britain (Manchester University Press, 2017),  Bonnie Evans tackles these vexing questions with aplomb, cogently tracing how the conception of autism has developed and changed across the twentieth century.

32025742Beginning in the first half of the twentieth century, Evan’s book shows how the idea of autism was initially shaped within the early development of psychoanalysis, with the work of Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget being particularly significant. Drawing from the theories of Sigmund Freud, Eugene Bleuler and Henri Bergson, Piaget positioned autism within the normal range of human thought as a child “developed from primitive magical imagination through to logical reasoning” (44). Autism was simply a distinct form of thinking generally associated with childhood, which some individuals were more prone to throughout their life. This thinking brought with it a heightened propensity for imagination and daydreaming, alongside a general disinterest in wider social engagement. It is this conception, the text posits, that fundamentally changed during the 1960s. Continue reading “Book Review: Metamorphosis of Autism”

CFP: Pain and its Paradoxes

BMJ Medical Humanities will host a special issue on PAIN in June 2018! We want you to be part of it!

Title: Pain and its Paradoxes
Abstract Deadline: August 1, 2017
Final Submission Deadline: October 1, 2017 (publication date June 2018)

Pain is almost certainly the most common illness experience on the planet.  Yet, it is frequently treated poorly, and those who experience pain often endure skepticism, doubt, and stigma for their condition.  In most places around the world, pain closely tracks social power structures, which means that marginalized groups are both more likely to experience pain, and are more likely to have it regarded dubiously and treated inadequately.

Moreover, while pain is a near-universal part of the human condition, it remains difficult to define and conceptualize.  As Emily Dickinson famously noted, pain has an element of blank.  And while pain and suffering are often experienced together, they remain distinct phenomena: some people in pain do not suffer, and some people who suffer state that they are not in pain.  Pain is an essential pathway to redemption for many, and for others it exists only as a devastating, hollowing experience that defies meaning.  In short, the paradoxes of pain are multiple, varied, and slippery.  While pain has not escaped scholarly attention in the medical and health humanities over the last decade, current and inequitable burdens of global pain alone justify sustained focus and analysis.  Accordingly, the Special Issue of Medical Humanities on “Pain and its Paradoxes” aims to integrate critical and rigorous scholarship (peer reviewed) addressing the lived experiences of pain, past, present, and future.  Specifically, we invite manuscripts on subjects including but not limited to

  • The nature and concept of pain;
  • The history of pain;
  • The phenomenology of pain;
  • Narratives of pain;
  • The relationship between pain and suffering;
  • Pain as an emotional experience (including the history of pain as emotional experience);
  • Pain and anxiety;
  • Pain and sympathy;
  • Pain and grief;
  • Pain and inequalities (race, gender, class, age, disability status, etc.);
  • Pain and disability;
  • Pain and stigma;
  • Pain and pharmaceuticals, including but not limited to opioids

The editors are especially interested in manuscripts considering pain from non-Western contexts.

Interested contributors should send an abstract to EIC Brandy Schillace ( and Guest Editor Daniel Goldberg ( no later than August 1, 2017. Final submissions should be submitted to the BMJ Medical Humanities online ScholarOne system, choosing the category Special Issue: Pain and it’s Paradoxes by October 1, 2017. All contributions will be subject to rigorous peer review.