Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Review: The Rules of the Tunnel by Ned Zeman

Plath, Hemingway, and Sexton among others. Clinical depression (and suicide) are often cozy bedfellows with creativity. Writers seem to be amazingly over-represented amongst the ranks of the depressed. Ned Zeman, a writer and editor for Vanity Fair, chronicles his own years fighting against this bleak and defeating disease in his memoir The Rules of the Tunnel: My Brief Period of Madness.

Written after he pursued every treatment avenue possible: talk therapy, anti-depressents, hospitalization, and even ECT (electro-convusive therapy), Zeman tells of the high toll his illness took on his friends, relationships, and family. The ECT affected his memory, making him lose a great chunk of time, and leaving him an amnesiac. Something about his treatments, either the ECT or a reaction to the medications or some other unknown also triggered a lengthy manic episode where Zeman alienated his girlfriend and drove his friends to the brink with his behaviour. But he was one of the lucky ones, having people in his life stand by him throughout his long bout of depression and ultimately seeming to find the even keel he needed to break out of the debilitation that is chronic depression.

Zeman is honest about this period, not sugar coating his own flaws nor his ungrateful reactions to kindness and help. He obviously inspires great loyalty as a friend but the memoir starts too far into his life to explain this given his self-pitying portrayal of himself. The good news is that while he can be incredibly selfish, he is also quite humorous, allowing the reader to laugh despite the seriousness of his situation. The decision to write using a second person narrator was likely made in order to draw the reader closer into Zeman's experience, asking the reader to imagine him or herself directly into the book. A hard convention to pull off, here it is too jarring and pulls the reader out of the text instead. Where the book really sings is in Zeman's recounting of the biographical articles he wrote for Vanity Fair, covering the lives and deaths of unusual people. As he muses on his obsession over these people and looks at depression or bipolar disease as the driving force in their lives, he learns more about himself and the demons that surround him as well. The book was a quick read once I got past the narration and Zeman is humorously self-deprecating. His memoir is an interesting look at depression from the inside, written in an accessible, journalistic style.

For more information about Ned Zeman and the book visit Vanity Fair's profile on Zeman.

Thanks to Lisa from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.


  1. As someone who does research in the arena of mental health, as well as a writer in the area, I had a tough time getting through the first chapter -- the second person POV really made me feel lectured at. Zeman has an important story to tell, just wish he had told it in a more digestible form. Peace...

  2. I'm a fan of journalistic style so that's a bonus for me in this book.

    Glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for being on the tour.


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