by Jennifer Traig
Highbridge Audio; UNABRIDGED edition, September 9, 2004
After getting a new iPod for my birthday, I have once again fallen in love with audio books. I used to be scandalized by the very idea of the audio book--listening rather than reading? ABRIDGEMENT? But then I realized two things: 1) the good ones come unabridged, and 2) audio books don't replace books, they allow you to "read" in circumstances you otherwise wouldn't be able to. Like when you are walking somewhere. Or in the car, when reading makes you carsick like it does me. Or on a treadmill. So it's all very exciting. I don't have to listen instead of read, I can listen AND read. Brilliant.
The first audio book I listened to on my new iPod was one I had from Audible.com from my last iPod and gym phase, Jennifer Traig's Devil in the Details: Scenes from an Obsessive Girlhood. Devil in the Details is Traig's memoir about growing up as a sufferer of obsessive-compulsive disorder, including bouts with anorexia and the hyper-religious form of OCD known as scrupulosity. Traig is both self-effacing and funny, while treating her condition as the serious mental illness she now knows it is (growing up in the 70s and 80s she and her family had no idea her strange behavior had a brain chemistry cause). The book is interesting both because of the hilarity of her antics and her descriptions of them and because of the thought Traig has obviously given to what it means, philosophically, to have obsessive compulsive disorder, and particularly to be scrupulous.
A theme in the book nearly as strong as Traig's OCD, and certainly, in her mind at least, connected to it, is her childhood in an inter-faith family. Traig's father is a first-generation American Jew, his parents having immigrated from Russia by way of France during his childhood, but his Judaism is more cultural than religious, with only occasional synagogue services, lots of pork products, etc. Her mother is a practicing Catholic. When they married, her parents agreed to bring up their children as Jewish, but little thought was apparently given to what that would mean, given that the religious half of the parenting duo was Catholic. So the household's celebrations and rituals, at least as described through Jennifer's eyes, were very barely Jewish. Jennifer herself, however, was drawn to Judaism at a very young age and "practiced" in her own way, early on. Her scrupulosity was based on Torah.
The clear parallel Traig makes between religious practice and obsessive-compulsive behavior is probably the most interesting part of the book. Traig is a practicing Jew as an adult, and is obviously quite serious about her faith, but also considers it a way to work her OCD tendencies into her life. She makes no bones about the fact that rules and denials are at least part of what draw her to Judaism, and she suspects this is the case for other practitioners (of all religions) as well. Having that kind of perspective about your mental illness, once you are properly treated, isn't that surprising. Having that perspective about your faith, however, is something I've never seen before, and it is the thing that sets this book apart from many of the other "fucked up girlhood/adolescence" memoirs I've read. Or listened to.