The Dog Doesn’t Die

Book reviews & random thoughts

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of Dirty Secret, by Jessie Sholl

George Carlin had a routine about “stuff” that always made me laugh, but also pointed out the absurdity of excessive acquisition. Like, how much “stuff” do we actually need? Probably a lot less than we’ve got.

While that applies to most of us, there’s a subset of people who get carried away with their stuff. Compulsive hoarding, according to Wikipedia, involves not only excessive acquisition, but also failure to discard. On the “hoarder shows,” the hoarders will often declare an item to be useful, failing to recognize that while it might be useful to someone, somewhere, it’s not likely to be useful to the hoarder.

So what’s it like to be related to a hoarder? On the hour-long TV shows, we’ll often hear a few comments from the children of hoarders. But, as Jessie Sholl demonstrates in her compassionate and poignant book about her own mother’s hoarding, there is much, much more to it than the sound bites selected by the editors at the A&E and TLC channels.

Sholl’s mother, Helen, was badly abused as a child and, possibly as a result, comes across as being sort of “flat”. I feel like the autism spectrum is over-used these days, but there’s something not right in the way she perceives and reacts to things.  She teases Sholl mercilessly about snakes, which she fears terribly, for example. And she’s a hoarder. Fortunately, Sholl’s father and stepmother were good, supportive parents with a normal household.

Sholl and her husband manage to keep Helen’s “situation” with the hoarding and the odd behavior and judgment at a manageable length for a while. But then Helen comes down with cancer, and the nightmare of dealing with the incredible volume of junk in her house begins in earnest. Although she denies it, Helen has blown her retirement savings on boxes of goods she never even opens. And there are other problems with the house that I will leave for the reader to uncover.

Sholl’s memoir has been described as the first memoir by the child of a hoarder. I’d like to see another, because I imagine there are hoarders who present different problems than Helen’s. I thought Sholl was incredibly fair to her mother, giving her the benefit of the doubt until it became almost insane to do so. She writes well, without hyperbole or excessive emotion or editorializing. Therefore, I am recommending this book.

As for animals, there are a couple of sad scenes. Sholl tries to get past her mother-induced fear of snakes by raising one as a baby, but that doesn’t work. She learns that the dog that she and her husband adopted may have had a sad beginning. And her mother, with the usual “flat aspect,” doesn’t seem to have cared for the dog she once had, although that dog may have gone on to a better environment. The first two situations were a more upsetting than I’m describing, so I will call this book PARTLY SAFE for animal lovers.

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February 15, 2011 - Posted by | autobiography, Book Reviews, dogs, families, memoir, nonfiction | , , , , , ,

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