Friday, September 11, 2015

Review: Stir: My Broken Brain And The Meals That Brought Me Home by Jessica Fechtor

Dear Literary Loves,

Let me start by prefacing this memoir review by saying I really, truly wanted to love this book.  When I read a blurb about it in one of my literary magazines and realized that a woman had written a memoir about a medical incident that was quite similar to one in which I helped a friend navigate the world of neurosurgeons, I was ecstatic.  I mean, brain issues are not trivial.  So I ordered the memoir in its original version and started reading it while on vacation.

First, the gist of the story is that a woman finds herself running on a treadmill, drops to the floor, and promptly gets taken to the hospital.  She has a major brain bleed or what I would more formerly describe as an aneurysm.  This is where a blood vessel in the brain weakens to the point of bursting and blood begins to pool in the brain.  It's not good; many people do not survive it.  I know several who did not survive this type of trauma to the brain.  I'm not going to give the ending away because well, that's just spoiling the book for another reader. 

Since I thrive on the unusual and absurd ailments a person can suddenly develop, I was looking forward to the whole book being about the medical experience of a brain bleed.  And fifty percent of the book explores that development in this woman's life.  I wanted serious medical detail relayed in layman/laywoman terms.  That's why I bought the book.  I kept getting distracted by the author's obsession with food.  I mean I realize that cooking, food, dinners, and holiday meals are what helped the author return to a sense of normalcy.  There was so much about food though that it was highly distracting.  Every other chapter included some sort of recipe.  Maybe it's because I don't consider myself a foodie, but I wanted to know more about what happened to her while she was in the hospital, the side effects of having your skull sawed open, and the experience of having the optic nerve in an eye decompressed.  Hello?  Where was the detailed discussion about that?  And I wondered why the author didn't confirm the head reconstruction surgery with both the brain surgeon and the plastic surgeon when the plastic surgeon clearly said he was not available on the date the patient had confirmed with the neurosurgeon?  When you go through the living hell of something like a brain bleed, loss of eyesight, temporary loss of taste, and reconstructive skull surgery that is far from perfect, I expected to hear more detail about that experience and why she didn't hold the plastic surgeon accountable for not showing up for the surgery?  It was quite apparent to me that the neurosurgeon and plastic surgeon were not on the same page and probably didn't communicate with one another about her case. 

Now, many of you are going to like the back and forth of reading about the medical trauma and then reading about food and its meaningfulness; however, I found the chapters on food to be distracting and a bit presumptuous.  I mean, I would never tell a person what brand of flour or sugar to buy for a particular recipe.  I am definitely not going to tell anyone that they absolutely must by an oven thermometer.  Mario Batali would probably salivate over the chapters on food, but I felt the audience who wanted to read about surviving a medical tragedy were left seriously disappointed.  And for the record, I thought it was great she had such a supportive husband, friends, and family; however, many people in such circumstances do not have that luxury.  And I kept wanting to ask the author, did you have health insurance and how did you handle the tremendous medical expense of all the hospital care, meds, equipment, etc. that you undoubtably encountered during this medical trauma?

To be honest, you have to read this memoir yourself and judge it for yourself.  I was left wanting as you can tell.  And I also want to say that I reached out to this author via email and wrote her editor at Avery twice and received no correspondence from either one which is definitely not going to make me a fan of anyone's publishing efforts.  And that kind of indifference doesn't give me any added incentive to recommend the book to my friends, acquaintances, book club members, family, etc.

And now I'm on to reading another memoir and also retooling my own memoir manuscripts so I make sure I'm engaging my reader with every chapter.

Till next time, happy reading!