Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Agorafabulous! by Sara Benincasa Review and Giveaway

Agorafabulous!: Dispatches from My BedroomAgorafabulous!: Dispatches from My Bedroom by Sara Benincasa

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goodreads: “I subscribe to the notion that if you can laugh at the shittiest moments in your life, you can transcend them. And if other people can laugh at your awful shit as well, then I guess you can officially call yourself a comedian.” 

In Boston, a college student fears leaving her own room—even to use the toilet. In Pennsylvania, a meek personal assistant finally confronts a perpetually enraged gay spiritual guru. In Texas, a rookie high school teacher deals with her male student’s unusually, er, hard personal problem. Sara Benincasa has been that terrified student, that embattled employee, that confused teacher—and so much more. Her hilarious memoir chronicles her attempts to forge a wonderfully weird adulthood in the midst of her lifelong struggle with agoraphobia, depression, and unruly hair. 

Relatable, unpretentious, and unsentimental, Agorafabulous! celebrates eccentricity, resilience, and the power of humor to light up even the darkest corners of our lives. (There are also some sexy parts, but they’re really awkward. Like really, really awkward.)

My take: Wow. This is one of the most well written and courageous memoirs I have ever read. It is not a woman wallowing in self-pity or exacting revenge against all of her enemies by publishing a book and point out THEIR short-comings. It is simply an honest and detailed look at Sara Benincasa's journey through adulthood neurosis.

The book begins with the author's high school years - one year in particular. A beloved boy she loved from afar, perfect in every possible way, including kind, handsome, and selfless, commits a heinous Catholic sin of suicide. This is the beginning of further unhinging her carefully constructed power and control of her debilitating fears and panic attacks.

At the age of 18, the author takes an 8 day tour of Europe with other high school students where she has a full-blow panic attack and details it in excruciating detail. Not excruciating for a person who does not suffer from any Axis II diagnosis (DSM-IV talk) but oh-so-familiar to a self-proclaimed neurotic who spent her own first two and half decades pretending to be normal but knowing she had all the secret and special powers to know from vibes that danger lurked and could only be avoided by litanies and unexplainable compensating behaviors.

A blessing of being neurotic is that we are magical. It's a gift. And a curse. Just as Monk.

Just a little warning that I was unprepared for - the author provides a brief and humorous summary of her own phobias in the first few pages. That is not the shocking part, in fact, it is very endearing. But it is peppered with sexual innuendo and swear words indicating such innuendo. In other words, the "f" bomb is abundant. That's when I nearly put the book down but I didn't. I was hypnotically entranced. There were moments she was telling my story except that I have expertly shoved those unpleasant detailed memories into compartments and duct taped them well. Not Sara. She owns her behavior and all disturbing thought processes in all its glory.

Chronologically ordered, Sara begins at age 18 and works forward. She tells about all the unspeakable habits she began in order to avoid The Thing that sat on her shoulder, her head, or her chest. She is heroic to me for freeing all of those thoughts and behaviors for the rest of us neurotics.

Clearly comedy is her forte and her timing is impeccable. Just as I was getting so sucked up into her life, thoughts, and relating all-to-well, she drops humor that made me chuckle, laugh out loud, or at least smile. Again, the timing is a thing of art. She does not belabor any part of her story, including the humor which could prove to be distracting and an attempt to over compensate. Instead, it is just enough to break up the seriousness of the illness. She does not minimize the part anxiety and depression played on her life but fully owns it. She lays it all out in spite of the fact that people she knows are going to read this book. She clearly states that there are two kinds of freaks; the kind who seek to be freaks like Lee Redmond from Salt Lake City who grew her fingernails to be like dragon claws and freaks who are purposely hiding their freakishness and wondering why ANYBODY would seek to be a freak. The latter is the club of neurotics.

This is not a simple and clean little story of how the author suffers from phobias and depression then gets better. The author instead provides brief snapshots of pivotal moments during her journey, hitting the lows (peppered with appropriate amount of humor) and her slow and not complete recovery. How can there be a recovery when "normal" was never a part of her original self? Like my children and I joke about our own neuroses, "Normal is a setting on the dryer."

This is an honest, frank, yet humorous journey through the eyes of a wise, courageous woman who seeks a place of peace and accepts the woman she is.

If you want to read a little of the beginning, click HERE.

If you want your own copy, click HERE or fill out form below.


Kim said...

I love a book where the author uses humor to get through the awful parts of life...I'd never get out of bed if I couldn't find the funny in the crapstorm that awaits me.

Meljprincess said...

I suffer from Agoraphobia. I would love to read this book. Thanks.