A better-than-average entry in the illness-memoir genre.
Levy (English, director of Writer’s Studio/Butler Univ.; The First Emancipator: The Forgotten Story of Robert Carter, the Founding Father Who Freed His Slaves, 2005, etc.) suffers from migraine headaches. In this memoir/historical review/philosophical inquiry, he delivers an impressive amount of material that will certainly resonate with fellow sufferers. Migraines affect more than 30 million people in the United States, notes the author, but since they aren’t directly involved in deaths, doctors have never officially recognized the illness as a fatal disease. This is changing, however, as recent advances reveal distinct brain abnormalities and treatments that correct them. Since migraines are involved in one in five marriages, stress on the partner creates a second epidemic of depression, anxiety and divorce: “vacations are cancelled; Saturday’s disappear as the migraining spouse stays in bed and the non-migraining spouse drifts absently around the house, too solicitous to leave, too bored to stay and not resent it.” Though most of the book is a chronicle of his own struggles with the illness, Levy produces a remarkable list of famous victims—including Thomas Jefferson, Charles Darwin, Virginia Woolf, Sigmund Freud and Elvis Presley—quoting liberally from their accounts. The author produces a dynamic portrayal of the migraineurs’ world, an ominous alternative universe where the subtlest sight, sound, smell or innocent event can trigger an attack. Because Levy is a writing professor, readers will encounter a heavy dose of metaphor and long, poetic, stream-of-consciousness passages describing the nightmarish misery of an endless headache. Sufferers will empathize; most general readers will sympathize.
An impressive meditation on a devastating affliction.