A review of Heartbroken: A Novel by Lisa Unger.
Tag Archives: trade paperback book
The First Year: IBS — An Essential Guide for the Newly Diagnosed by Heather Van Vorous (Da Capo Press, $16.99, 242 pages)
“…knowledge is power over IBS… (With it) you will be managing your IBS – it will not be managing you.”
Do you regularly or periodically have disabling stomach pains, the type that hurt so much you just want to lie down, curl up and be still? If so, you may be experiencing the digestive flare-ups brought on by Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). IBS actually has less to do with your stomach – which seems to be the source of the discomfort and pain – then with the digestive tract; it was formerly known as Spastic Colon disease.
As explained in The First Year: IBS, this is a medical condition determined by exclusion rather than inclusion. If you think you may be IBS-afflicted, your doctor will want to perform a series of exams and tests to exclude other serious conditions or ailments such as colon or stomach cancer, Crohn’s Disease (which may result in cancer), colitis or a hernia. Only when all of these and other verifiable possibilities are ruled out will an M.D. decide that someone is an IBS sufferer. If you receive such a diagnosis, you will want to pick up Heather Van Vorous’ “Essential Guide for the Newly Diagnosed.”
I purchased this book after weeks of painful (and sometimes burning) symptoms and the subsequent medical diagnosis. I was far from optimistic that my aches would be relieved by a new diet. Van Vorous, however, makes a quite convincing case that IBS flare-ups are triggered by consuming certain foods or liquids. These triggers are different for each person but they can be things as simple as: coffee (sigh), artificial sweeteners, nuts or seeds, popcorn, fried chicken, fruits such as pineapple or fruit nectars, pastries or baked goods, chocolate, etc. It is also essential to lower the amount of fat in one’s diet since, as we all know (eaten a large hamburger or steak recently?), high fat foods are tough to digest.
“Children with IBS absolutely cannot eat at McDonald’s, Burger King, or most any other fast food restaurant, because there is literally nothing safe on their menus.”
The key to Van Vorous’ diet remedy is to begin limiting the intake of insoluble fiber foods (such as popcorn), replacing them with soluble fiber foods – “the basis of the IBS diet.” Soluble fiber foods include such pleasing and digestible items as rice, potatoes, flour tortillas, bananas, mangoes and applesauce. The First Year provides easy-to-read and copy (one per page) lists of insoluble fiber and other foods to avoid, and of the soluble fiber foods that will become the foundation of a former sufferer’s new diet.
Suffice it to say that even for this sceptical reader and IBS-diagnosed patient the new diet worked, both well and relatively quickly! An added benefit of the diet prescribed by Van Vorous is not only the absence of pain and discomfort, but an improved (“regular”) digestive tract. IBS sufferers often bounce back and forth between constipation and diarrhea, but not after adopting the soluble fiber regimen.
The First Year also addresses the importance of stress management and exercise. Tai Chi is a specific form of exercise that is recommended as “a type of moving meditation.” Van Vorous had IBS for over twenty years and learned that after she limited and controlled the condition through diet, she could then manage it even better through exercising and applying a positive mental attitude. When you consider that this trade paperback book sells for less than a $20 bill, it’s a very wise investment.
This book was purchased by the reviewer.
Bird in Hand by Christina Baker Kline (William Morrow Paperbacks, $13.99, 320 pages)
Yeah we were desperate then/ To have each other to hold/ But love is a long, long road. Tom Petty
Full and proper character development appears to be becoming a lost art in fiction, but author Christina Baker Kline does her bit to revive the art in the intriguing novel Bird in Hand. This is a fine story, extremely well told, of four people, partners in two marriages and very good friends. We get to know all four characters and hear their stories – from their own perspectives – in this well-constructed tale.
The narrative begins with Alison whose life seems to be virtually perfect until two things happen. First, she becomes involved in a deadly accident while under the influence and the ramifications of this threaten to tear her world apart. Second is something that she’s completely unaware of, which is that her husband is having an affair with someone she considered a friend. Thus, her world changes overnight: “For Alison, now, the world was a different place, and yet it was strangely the same. She was present and not present in her own life.”
Kline writes with the same cool, suburban angst filled tone as Richard Ford (Independence Day, The Sportswriter). There’s a question that is asked in Ford’s writing and in a Talking Heads song: How did I get here? “She walked around the silent house and looked at the framed photographs that lined the mantelpiece and cluttered the bookshelves, wondering, Is this really my life? This collage of frozen moments, frozen in time.”
In Bird in Hand, we also meet Charlie, Alison’s steady if unfaithful husband; Claire, the newly published author and friend of Alison’s; and Ben, Charlie’s successful if somewhat dull and introverted husband. It’s rare to find a work in which all four characters are so well fleshed out and, yes, real. Here’s an example in how Alison describes Charlie: “…as they started talking she realized that there was… something in his character that she couldn’t put down. He wasn’t cocky, and his humor was gentle. He had a mild confidence, a lack of self-consciousness, an ironic take on the world that wasn’t caustic or bitter. Despite his social ease, he had a solitary air.”
At one point, Charlie describes Claire in words that could apply to the author’s style in writing this novel. “She could be formal one moment and irreverent, even crude, the next.”
“Real life, she knew, was just beginning.”
One of the ironies of reading Bird in Hand is that its fictional account of the disintegration of a marriage feels far more true to life than two contemporary nonfiction accounts: How to Sleep Alone in a King-Size Bed by Theo Pauline Nestor and Happens Every Day by Isabel Gillies. I much preferred Nestor’s account but neither narrator seemed as true to me as the character Alison in Kline’s work.
It may be because Kline gives us not just a story, but the motivations that spur on the individuals. With Alison, it’s disillusionment. “Nothing about her life at the moment was what she’d envisioned for herself when she got married.” Alison’s husband Charlie is moved by the feeling that he’s made the wrong choices for himself. “He was doing this because he could not keep skimming along the surface of his life without one day crashing into something hard and unpleasant… he was convinced he would get only one chance to feel this kind of passion, to express it, to live.”
And then Kline reveals that motivation, intent, means little or nothing because all humans act with incomplete – flawed – knowledge (quoting Alice McDermott): “As if… what was actual, as opposed to what was imagined, as opposed to what was believed, made, when you got right down to it, any difference at all.” So, ultimately, this is an impressive work about real, flawed, individuals doing the best they can at a certain point in their existence, making mistakes but ultimately moving forward. “It was real life, the way things should be, and even as it was happening it felt to Alison like a distant memory, the moment already slipping into the past.”
A great deal of praise should be bestowed on author Kline for creating characters that adult readers can relate to. At one point in Bird in Hand, Kline writes of Alison’s experiences as a young woman, “It was a strange and magical feeling.” Kline has delivered a strange, unique, magical and borderline brilliant story.
A review (hardbound) copy was provided by William Morrow.