Uneven but ultimately satisfying memoir of a young author’s OCD.
Growing up in Massachusetts, comic-book fan and video-game aficionado Wortmann managed to keep his undiagnosed obsessive-compulsive disorder relatively in check. That all changed, however, after high school when the pressures of higher education and encroaching adulthood conspired to undermine his efforts at health and happiness. Trapped in the confines of an increasingly tormented brain, the author spent his early days at Swarthmore College drinking too much and carrying on an ill-advised relationship with an equally disturbed young woman. He would not emerge from the OCD wilderness without a prolonged stay at a mental-health facility specializing in OCD. Wortmann writes eloquently about his battles with OCD, constructing dense, dramatic prose to convey even the tiniest observations. He goes on at length, for example, about the social dynamics of Swarthmore and even the divergent personalities of his beloved childhood pets. Yet there remains a certain distance attributable to the overly complex and self-indulgent narrative. Although evident, Wortmann's anguish consistently takes a backseat to the next well-crafted (overbaked?) sentence. The author has a background in comedy, which could explain the exactitude of his narrative, a possible comedic counterpoint to the distressing chaos of the subject matter. What’s lacking is a more vivid portrayal of Wortmann’s particular brand of OCD. Excessive hand-washing and compulsive checking are easy to depict. “Pure-O” compulsions—unseen rituals performed in the mind to fend off unwanted thoughts—are a lot tougher to relate. Unfortunately, readers end up with a far greater understanding of Swarthmore’s dating scene than the author’s unique type of disorder.
Many questions about the exact nature of Wortmann’s OCD rituals remain elusive, but his inspiring victories after successful treatment ring true.