Title/Author: This Mean Disease: Growing Up in the Shadow of My Mother’s Anorexia Nervosa by Daniel Becker
Publisher/Year Published: Gürze Books, 2005
How I got this book: Library
This Mean Disease is, as the subtitle states, Daniel Becker’s memoir of his life as the son of a woman with anorexia nervosa. He starts with the point at which his mother’s anorexia began, which was not, as one might expect, when she was a teenager, but instead at age 34, when she was already married with children. Becker continues through his life, up until his mother’s death, including both his own story and information from relatives, family friends, and doctors. He recounts his ignorance of his mother’s condition, his feelings of hopelessness, and his attempts to cope with them with drugs and parties, as well as his difficult relationship with his disconnected father.
This is the first straight-out memoir I have read, and as such, I feel kind of weird rating someone’s life. However, I have nothing negative to say about Becker’s well-written piece. His story is interesting, making a compelling book, and he did well at avoiding unnecessary details (something I feel would be difficult when recounting one’s entire life), keeping This Mean Disease short and easily comprehensible, but still beautifully written. The simplicity of the writing keeps the memoir from pulling too hard at our heartstrings or wrenching us apart into pieces, as many depressing books do. Becker does not try to elicit our sympathy, but rather seems to have set out to tell us his story and allow us to view it objectively and make of it as we may, a method I found beneficial to the telling. The story on its own is heart-wrenching enough. Thus, despite the lack of vivid descriptions, it is not difficult to get into the story and understand what Becker went through. Though most people cannot easily relate to the story as a whole—even at the time, with so few recognized cases of anorexia nervosa, most patients were teenagers or young adults, not mothers of three in their 30s, 40s or 50s—we can understand why Becker felt the way he felt at different stages of his life.
What makes this book all the more interesting for me, however, is that I know Daniel Becker as he is now. He was my teacher in high school, and I still talk to him frequently when I go back to visit. He is always cheerful, very smart, and a great person to go to for advice. I could never have guessed that he grew up with so much misery and pain, but I respect him all the more now that I know, and for being able to tell his story.
Becker’s story is unique, honest, beautiful, and haunting, and this review certainly does not do it justice. I feel in a way privileged to have gotten to see into this part of Becker’s life.