Title: The Rules of the Tunnel: My Brief Period of Madness
Author: Ned Zeman
Release date: August 4, 2011
Source: TLC Book Tours
Rating: 4 out of 5
Possible theme song: “Brain Damage” by Pink Floyd
Kinda like: A modern, humorous take on another memoir released this summer, The Storm at the Door.
What is madness? How does one distinguish between a behavioral disorder and a really bad day?
Ned Zeman, a journalist who has written for Vanity Fair, Newsweek, Spy, GQ, Outside, and Sports Illustrated, turns his eye to the one subject that has constantly eluded him: himself. His zany memoir of madness and memory loss reads like one long feature piece—a profile of himself.
Zeman first grew concerned about his own nature when he found himself identifying a little too much with some of the men on whom he was reporting—from an emperor penguin expert to a fantastically wealthy movie agent to the man obsessed with grizzlies, all of whom displayed passion, depth, and extreme mood disorders.
He begins by inventorying his own life for abnormalities of behavior, and it doesn’t take too long before he encounters deep-seated emotional issues. He ends with a depression so dark that it prompted him to embark on electroconvulsive (ECT) treatments—also known as electroshock.
What happens in the middle is anyone’s guess, for Zeman can’t remember the events of the last year and a half. While ECT has a pretty good track record of helping balance bipolar disorder sufferers, Zeman learns, it also has a pretty wicked side effect: memory loss.
Zeman is as clueless about his life as the reader at the beginning of his story, because he suffers from (or, more accurately, exults in) amnesia. As a reporter who has made his living profiling famous and eccentric characters, Zeman uses his journalistic skills to unravel his recent history—drawing on medical and financial records, emails, notes, and interviews with friends, family, and psychiatrists.
He finds, as he turns his critical reporter’s eye to his own logic-defying behavior, that “the heart remembers what the mind forgets.”
The author’s use of second person narration reinforces the investigative aspect of Zeman’s work; he is telling his own story to himself, and the reader is just along for the ride:
You are a reporter. A gatherer and disseminator of facts. A drive-thru historian. The Amnesiac Reporter. . . . In a way, you felt, this was journalism as it was meant to be.
Zeman’s account is irreverent, inventive, and incredibly unique. He makes being a little crazy very funny. His unusual investigation is ultimately an inquest into who he is, how he became this person, and what he can do to change.
The Rules of the Tunnel is an honest, unsparing look at one writer’s most difficult time. The author doesn’t always seems so great—in fact, at times he comes off as whiny, ungrateful, and sheltered—but his self-deprecating humor is the spoonful of sugar that helps his self-absorption go down. But both are vital parts of this memoir.
The amnesia aspect of the story is fascinating, both as a narrative device and as an educational tool. Though the story can be quite confusing at times, it is usually in a good way. Some parts of the story seem unresolved: what exactly happens to his relationship with his girlfriend? Does he ever experience relapses or doubt his final psychiatrist’s diagnosis?
But to have reduced everything to a neat package would be to negate the book’s point. Life is messy and uncontrolled. You may forget important things and your memories may change, but the person within never does.
Quote of Note:
A Jewish family stops hovering the day they become Presbyterian.
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August 1: Rundpinne
August 2: The Broke and the Bookish
August 3: Sara’s Organized Chaos
August 4: Chaotic Compendiums
August 8: Acting Balanced
August 9: Book Dilettante
August 10: BookNAround
August 11: In the Next Room
August 15: A Bookworm’s World
August 17: Take Me Away
August 18: Bookshipper
August 22: Luxury Reading
August 29: Life in Review
August 30: Raging Bibliomania
August 31: My Book Retreat
Date TBD: Brain Candy Book Reviews