“In the center of the cement floor sits a four-foot high pyramid of mildewy sweaters, looking like a bonfire ready to be lit, and that’s exactly what I’d like to do, because life would be so much easier if I could just burn this whole house down.”
There is a big difference between watching an hour-long TV show about compulsive hoarding and living with a close relative whose behavior has literally squeezed you out. Author Jessie Sholl is an essayist who has written a touching and engaging memoir about her relationship with her mother, a compulsive hoarder. Her childhood memories and playground embarrassments are all too real and pitiful. No, this is not a sob story or a revenge piece. It is Sholl’s declaration of acceptance of reality and acknowledgment of a fact that she has been stuffing away into dark places in her soul for way too long.
Sholl’s tale is calmly set forth in a measured voice. There are no wild moments of over-the-top drama as are shown on A&E’s Hoarders show or The Style Network’s Clean House. Nor is there a miracle cure after the trash haulers roll away from the house. Rather, the ongoing, really relentless nature of her mother’s disease forms the backdrop for the disintegration of a family.
This reviewer thinks kudos are due to Sholl for her willingness to travel from New York to Minneapolis at a time when her mom is diagnosed with cancer. Cancer is daunting enough without the prospect of caring for someone in a house overrun with hoarded stuff. Between the long-term hoarding and the newly diagnosed cancer, there are more than enough challenges to be dealt with in a relatively short stay. Sholl seems to be a very gracious person. Her father and stepmother are portrayed as the saving grace in this scenario.
The background material, bibliography and discussion points round out an excellent presentation of hoarding. If someone in your life has this condition, Dirty Secret is a highly recommended read. It is a balanced blend of reality and compassion.
This review was written by Ruta Arellano. A review copy was received from the publisher.