Wilfrid Sheed

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Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography


In this memoir Sheed reflects on his experience of three major illnesses: polio; clinical depression, related to alcoholism and sleeping pill addiction; and cancer. He contrasts the incongruous and paradoxical "inner life" of illness, with the often oversimplified prototypical experience represented by AA [Alcoholics Anonymous] literature, various psychiatric orthodoxies, and popular media.

Issues that arise include the tension between medical authority and patient experience, caregivers' and clinicians' projections, friends' and family's misapprehensions, and the surprises, both welcome and horrifying, that occur in the course of treatment and recovery because no illness, mental or physical, follows a textbook format.

The narrative is a wry examination of games patients play as well as a confession, dry and witty but also extraordinarily perceptive, of the failed and false expectations, pretenses, fears, resistances, rage, and qualified pleasures that characterized his personal odysseys through illnesses that have often been simplified and obscured by popular mythmaking.

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