Tag Archives: mental illness

Review: Agorafabulous! by Sara Benincasa

6th August 2012

*I received this book from the publisher William Morrow at BEA.

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.

I knew when this book opened with a Molly Ivins’ quote that I was likely going to love it. Plus, right off the bat, this chick is funny. Then…Benincasa pulled the rug out from under me, talking about an adolescent crush who “one night in the spring, …walked into his garage, filled a bottle with gasoline, brought it upstairs into the bathroom, locked the door, poured some of the gasoline down his throat, soaked himself in the rest, and lit a match.”

I was shocked and horrified, and it took re-reading it for it to really sink in because in the pages before she’s talked about what an all-around good guy this kid is, someone all the girls love, and then he’s gone. As you can imagine, his death does a number on her, and she ends the introduction with a sort of benediction, saying she feels as though he’s there somewhere, “reminding [her] that clear-cut choices are few and far between.”

But no fear, Benincasa does an excellent job of bringing you to the brink of pain and despair before lightening it up with her characteristic (and dark/obscene/morbid) humor. For example, when she admits to her best friend that she cut herself:

Now that’s awkward enough, but here’s the truly humiliating part, the piece I’ve never admitted to anyone else…it was a butter knife. A fucking butter knife. What the hell kind of half-assed training-wheels shit is that? I’ve given myself deeper cuts while shaving my legs. It was nothing more than an advanced scratch. It wasn’t even a fully realized effort to hurt myself, much less end my own life. It was pretty much the most pussy attempt at self-destruction ever.

Benincasa reaches the point in college where she can’t leave her apartment because she knows she will die if she does. In fact, her fear extends to the bathroom, and she begins urinating in cereal bowls and shoving them under her bed. When her friend realizes the extent of Sara’s problem, she phones her parents, and Sara’s mom races to pick her up. Most of the book focuses on this part, the recovery, and though it’s funny, the depth of intimacy is something that goes away after she admits peeing in bowls. Understandable. In fact, the rest of the book is more a series of personal essays than anything else, but there is an overall arc to them, and more importantly, Benincasa does what Sedaris is so good at: the humor evinces the deeper growth she experiences in each situation.

Agorafabulous! is a brave book and does for mental illness what Sex and the City (the television show) did for sex or Jimmy Choos or cigarettes in the 21st century: brings it out in the open, shows what it is and can be and why we need to be able to discuss it and laugh about it.

Read this: if you are interested in mental illness/love David Sedaris or Sarah Vowell/enjoy off-the-wall memoirs. Check out others’ responses or add it to your shelf on Goodreads.