A candid memoir of love, illness, and friendship and a justification for “romantic feminist love.”
Brill (co-author: Dancing at the River’s Edge: A Patient and Her Doctor Negotiate Life with Chronic Illness, 2009, etc.) reveals her struggle for independence in the face of social expectations and a debilitating autoimmune disease. Growing up in the 1950s, Brill was repeatedly misdiagnosed by unsympathetic, sexist doctors; one suggested that her symptoms of stiffness, swelling, and fevers were psychosomatic. Finally, she was diagnosed with atypical juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, which was revised as systemic lupus; she was 30 before a physician—and co-author of her last memoir—discovered she had the chronic, incurable, atypical Wegener’s granulomatosis. Brill reflects on how her health affected her aspirations and marriages. Years after her first husband divorced her, he confessed that he had left because of her disease. “He had needed to preserve the quality of his life and ensure his future,” he explained. Her second husband, a self-aggrandizing liar whom one neurologist diagnosed as a narcissistic sociopath, resented it when her illness flared up. Two bad choices, though, have not dissuaded Brill from believing in love: not the happily-ever-after story that she had imagined, as a star-struck child, for Grace Kelly but “love in mutually understanding and accepting ways.” Brill’s feminism was honed, in part, through her long friendship with Betty Friedan, whose groundbreaking The Feminine Mystique had hugely influenced Brill’s mother. As “a pioneering cartographer for women,” Friedan was judgmental and bad-tempered, with a voracious craving for praise and recognition. She denigrated Gloria Steinem for garnering the attention that she thought was her due. But she and Brill bonded over chronic illness—Friedan’s was asthma—and shared ideals for women’s lives.
A perceptive chronicle of hard-won wisdom.