A delightful, Plimptonesque exercise in immersive journalism exploring the strange world of “self-help.”
Lisick (Everybody into the Pool: True Tales, 2005, etc.) devoted a year to various gurus in an attempt to self-actualize. She endeavored to become a Highly Effective Person under the auspices of Stephen Covey, to fortify her soul with Jack Canfield’s Chicken Soup, to get fit with Richard Simmons on a cruise ship, to straighten out her perilous finances with Suze Orman, to consistently discipline her young son with Thomas Phelan’s 1-2-3 Magic method, to figure out John Gray’s Mars/Venus gender dichotomy, and generally to live a better, happier life. It is to the reader’s great benefit that Lisick is: 1) a mess, 2) cynical and horrified of cheesiness, and C) effortlessly funny. Her visualizations didn’t go right, she didn’t have the right clothes for the ghastly seminars and on Simmons’s cruise she got high and made inappropriate advances to a surly young musician accompanying his mother. Lisick makes keen use of comic detail, as when she charts the deflation of Simmons’s hair over the course of the cruise. She is tough on the well-paid experts, but fair, sincerely laboring to suspend her skepticism and game to put their advice into action. Some of it works: A home-organization expert helps Lisick’s family emerge from their chaotic clutter, and Phelan’s discipline strategy tames her truculent toddler. But of course the book is funniest when things don’t go so well. The author’s revulsion over Gray’s retrograde sexual stereotypes (and disturbingly smooth, buffed appearance) is palpable and highly amusing. Her articulate hatred of the anodyne platitudes in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way provides a tonic for anyone dismayed by fuzzy New Age smugness. None of that from Lisick, who is sharp, irreverent and endearingly screwed-up. Her experiment may not have solved all of her problems, but she got an enjoyable book out of it.
Funny, perceptive and surprisingly open-hearted under the cynicism.