Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Review: Life Is Like a Line by Cynthia Sabotka

Diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 48, Sabotka penned this memoir, subtitled: A Memoir of Moods, Medication, and Mania. Starting with her parents' courtship and marriage even before her own birth, Sabotka chronicles the dysfunction that threatened to overwhelm her family at every turn: her parents' hostile marriage, her mother's clear favoritism towards the first born child, her father's hair-trigger temper, her mother's nervous breakdown(s), and the list goes on and on. Reading the litany of unhappiness in Sabotka's childhood and even adulthood, it is a wonder that she didn't seek professional help sooner than she did. But after years of being the peacemaker and caretaker, she was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder and entered into the process of trying to balance herself. The book is told in both straightforward sections and in "journal entries" and focuses heavily on childhood and early adolescence rather than on Sabotka's journey once diagnosed.

I found this incredibly difficult to read for a variety of reasons. The writing struck me as stilted and oftentimes overly analytical. I didn't like the convention of the journal entries as they came across as therapy exercises rather than actual journal entries of the times she was chronicling. Perhaps they were indeed culled from throughout her life but they rang false and felt contrived tossed into the book as they were. And oftentimes they weren't set off from the rest of the writing other than by their font, melding into the rest of the story so as to negate their efficacy and necessity. Perhaps this would have been better as a textbook than as a general interest memoir. Certainly the writing had a dry and informational feel to it rather than coming across as an in the moment memoir. Certain things Sabotka did in her writing reinforced this effect, such as referring to anything medical using the very stilted, proper medical diagnosis. It is far easier and more comfortable for a lay reader to come across "hypothyroidism" than long involved medical terminology--and frankly as that lay reader, also fairly uninteresting to have all possible drug interactions or physical side-effects chronicled. I'm not certain I gained any insight into a bipolar person, although I got more than I bargained for of Sabotka's incredibly dysfunctional upbringing, which, combined with a genetic predisposition perhaps easily explains her illness. Not a book I'd recommend, I really struggled hard to get through this one.

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