I have never picked up glass from the street, and put it in my pocket, fearful that if I left it there a passing car would careen over it, and tires slicing, wheels swerving, people would die. I have never starved myself or pounded my head to deliberately cause myself pain. I only pray in shul.
I am not Abby Sher, the author of “Amen, Amen, Amen: Memoir of a Girl Who Couldn’t Stop Praying (Among Other Things),” (Scribner: already out in Hardcover for $25, Sept 28th release in paperback) and thankfully so, because for 90% of her memoir, I wanted to scream at her, to shake her, to wake her up from her obsessive compulsive behaviors, her anorexia, her self-mutilation, and yes, even her constant praying.
This book is about pain, and loss, and control. About a dysfunctional family. About a woman who has tried and failed and tried again to heal, to talk, and to love herself and others.
It is unspeakably foreign and uncomfortably familiar.
“Amen, Amen, Amen” is beautifully and poignantly written but it took me at least until half way through the book before I could look beyond the author’s pain and crazed behavior, and my inexplicable anger at her, with her, and for her, and actually see the lushness of her words.
“Betsy and I clung to each other; clung to this voice floating from another dimension. I closed my eyes hoping to see my mother’s face, but as she charged through the first verse her image grew dimmer, just as my father’s did years before.”
“There is a soul, and nostrils, arms, legs, and now even fingernails and eyebrows growing, stretching, needing me. I feed Flicker whole-milk cheeses and grilled steak, bright orange ice pops and ripe olives dripping in oil. I no longer suck in my stomach as I pass a plate-glass window or close my eyes in the shower. I can’t stop looking at my reflection.”
Ms. Sher’s memoir is about control and chaos, and the rituals and faith that get you through them. It’s a reminder about how we should be living, breathing, communicating, and enduring, and not just passing through each day.
It’s a warning that this world is filled with pain and sorrow, some of which we create, and some of which we cannot control, and that those who survive and (even) thrive are those who surround themselves with love and strength and joy – often through the help of friends, family, significant others, or G-d.
“Amen, Amen, Amen” may be too painful for many to read.
Ms. Sher’s wounds are clearly still fresh, and she doesn’t hide them from her reader. But her writing is compelling and passionate even at its most repugnant.
If you’re one to embrace the opportunity to see hell and back through another’s eyes; if you’re a fan of long drop roller coasters or sharp shots of tequila; or if you are suffering somehow, someway, and want to know you’re not alone, read this book.