Curing the Pelvic Headache

Robert Pinsky in the New York Times Book Review:

Pinsky-articleInline The appeal of conversion stories often depends on descriptions of the darkness before enlightenment: we enjoy learning in detail about the presalvation misery, debauchery or sinfulness. The more detail, the better. The English novelist Tim Parks understands that principle. In his urbane, droll, weird yet far from charmless account of the pain and misery suffered by his body in general, and by his bladder, prostate, penis and related bits in particular, the conversion is from a cerebral, anxious, hunched-over and compulsively verbal kvetch (not his term, but the literal “squeeze” makes the Yiddish word seem appropriate) to something resembling the opposite.

Like the reformed sinner who diverts his audience with lurid, prolonged accounts of nights in the fleshpots, Parks gives an amusing, anxiously over-the-top confession of his former condition: “I was nothing but tension. . . . I brushed my teeth ferociously, as if I wanted to file them down. I yanked on my socks as if determined to thrust my toes right through them. . . . When I pushed a command button, I did so as if it was my personal strength that must send the elevator to the sixth floor, or raise the door of the garage. While I shaved I tensed my jaw, while I read I tensed my throat, while I ate (too fast) I tensed my forehead, while I talked I tensed my shoulders, while I listened I tensed my neck, while I drove I tensed everything.

This passage — much longer without my ellipses — extends over an entire page. The next paragraph begins, “And this is only the briefest summary of my chronically maladjusted state.”

More here.