Illuminating, impactful writing about coping with mental illness.

AN IMPOSSIBLE LIFE

THE INSPIRING TRUE STORY OF A WOMAN’S STRUGGLE FROM WITHIN

A debut memoir recounts a woman’s harrowing struggle with mental illness.

“I may have put in the hours to write this story, but she put in the years and lived it,” Siddoway remarks in the authors’ notes about her mother, Wasden. Written from Wasden’s first-person perspective, the book opens in 2007 in an emergency room in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Wasden was almost 40 years old when her family began to worry about her mental health and her husband, Mitch, decided to hospitalize her. At the time, she believed that she was simply “overstressed” from supervising house renovations, dieting, and home-schooling three children. But when asked the question “Do you want to die?” by a crisis worker, Wasden replied with a firm “yes.” The memoir tells of her involuntary admission to a psych ward, describing in detail the eight days of her stay, interspersed with episodes from her earlier life. She recalls the soporific effects of the antipsychotic pills she was administered: “They would torture me and save my life all at the same time,” making her feel “a type of sleepiness I had never experienced before.” The volume also skips back to 1999, when Wasden was self-harming with steak knives, and to 2000, when she was obsessing about losing weight. The close of the work examines her time as a recovering psychiatric patient, her lapses and perseverance, and the effects of some devastating family crises.

This is an elegantly written memoir that lays bare the progression of mental illness. It deftly pinpoints the moment when, as a young adult, Wasden began grappling with the responsibilities of daily life: “I don’t want to be an adult anymore. I don’t want to be pregnant. I don’t want to live in Michigan. I want to be a sixteen-year-old kid again.” This is juxtaposed with descriptions of later self-harm that are captured with unflinching clarity: “I reached up toward the steak knife on my desk—the only medicine I had to dull the agony. I grabbed it and started to cut the bottoms of my feet. It stung. The times the pain got bad enough to cut it felt like tidal waves were swallowing me, rolling me through an angry sea.” Keenly observant, with sharp, natural dialogue throughout, the book also recognizes the impact that living with someone with mental health issues has on others. Siddoway’s outburst regarding her mother’s suicidal tendencies delivers a shuddering impact: “My whole life has felt like one sick game of jack-in-the-box. We’ve all been tiptoeing around the idea that you could disappear one day and never come back!” The memoir would benefit from a more considered conclusion, although the authors do suggest that this work is part of a series, which would partially excuse its open-endedness. Nevertheless, the power of this story is that it allows readers to enter the mind of an individual suffering from a mental health disorder and begin to understand her thoughts and actions. This erudite book could prove insightful for patients, caretakers, and therapists alike.

Illuminating, impactful writing about coping with mental illness.

Pub Date: Feb. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-73361-940-0

Page Count: 311

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2020

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A blissfully vicarious, heartfelt glimpse into the life of a Manhattan burlesque dancer.

TANQUERAY

A former New York City dancer reflects on her zesty heyday in the 1970s.

Discovered on a Manhattan street in 2020 and introduced on Stanton’s Humans of New York Instagram page, Johnson, then 76, shares her dynamic history as a “fiercely independent” Black burlesque dancer who used the stage name Tanqueray and became a celebrated fixture in midtown adult theaters. “I was the only black girl making white girl money,” she boasts, telling a vibrant story about sex and struggle in a bygone era. Frank and unapologetic, Johnson vividly captures aspects of her former life as a stage seductress shimmying to blues tracks during 18-minute sets or sewing lingerie for plus-sized dancers. Though her work was far from the Broadway shows she dreamed about, it eventually became all about the nightly hustle to simply survive. Her anecdotes are humorous, heartfelt, and supremely captivating, recounted with the passion of a true survivor and the acerbic wit of a weathered, street-wise New Yorker. She shares stories of growing up in an abusive household in Albany in the 1940s, a teenage pregnancy, and prison time for robbery as nonchalantly as she recalls selling rhinestone G-strings to prostitutes to make them sparkle in the headlights of passing cars. Complemented by an array of revealing personal photographs, the narrative alternates between heartfelt nostalgia about the seedier side of Manhattan’s go-go scene and funny quips about her unconventional stage performances. Encounters with a variety of hardworking dancers, drag queens, and pimps, plus an account of the complexities of a first love with a drug-addled hustler, fill out the memoir with personality and candor. With a narrative assist from Stanton, the result is a consistently titillating and often moving story of human struggle as well as an insider glimpse into the days when Times Square was considered the Big Apple’s gloriously unpolished underbelly. The book also includes Yee’s lush watercolor illustrations.

A blissfully vicarious, heartfelt glimpse into the life of a Manhattan burlesque dancer.

Pub Date: July 12, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-27827-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2022

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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