Thursday, March 10, 2011


Whenever someone writes a memoir about drug addiction, wild orgies, eating disorders, poor parenting, reviews will discuss how brave the writer was for sharing. Whereas what's really brave is Stephen Metcalf's NYMag story about having induced sleep in four therapists - his only four therapists - during his sessions with them. Metcalf has admitted to having bored people.

That this is his subject matter can't help but lead the reader of his article to wonder what about Metcalf's monologuing would bring on a good nap. This is not a good prejudice for a reader to have in general, but especially come moments like:

At Yale, I had a swank fellowship, met literary critics I’d worshipped since childhood, read English Romantic poetry, studied Latin and Greek, and I went to the gym ceaselessly. The weightlifting could stand in for the entire experience. I piled higher and higher weights on top of my meager frame, lying on a bench, beet-faced, pushing them off me, and as I did, I only seemed to get weaker. In grad school, I read more and more books, and as I did, I only seemed to get stupider. In therapy, I added more and more sessions, and as I did, I only seemed to get sicker.
A woe-is-me story along these lines, one seemingly designed to fit as many bragging points into a passage ostensibly about the author's personal failings as possible, for the reader who's been primed to wonder, why the yawning... I will confess to having not finished the article. Though perfectly awake, it seems that didactic fiction in the 19th century French-Jewish press proved more compelling. I must, however, commend Metcalf for his bravery, a term I think gets thrown around far too much when it comes to confessional writing.

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