Good Morning, Destroyer of Men’s Souls Review

Book: Good Morning, Destroyer of Men’s Souls
Author: Nina Renata Aron
Publisher: Crown
Year: 2020
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Synopsis: “‘The disease he has is addiction,’ Nina Renata Aron writes of her boyfriend, K. “The disease I have is loving him.” Their affair is dramatic, urgent, overwhelming – an intoxicating antidote to the long, lonely days of early motherhood. Soon after they get together, K starts using again, and years of relapses and broken promises follow. Even as his addiction deepens, she stays, confined that she is the one who can help him get sober. As a result of an adolescence marred by tragedy, Aron has always felt responsible for those suffering around her. How can she break this pattern? If she leave K, has she failed him?
Writing in prose at once unflinching and acrobatic, Aron delivers a piercing memoir that cracks open the long-feminized and overlooked phenomenon of codependency. She shifts between visceral, ferocious accounts of her affair with K – as well as her family’s own struggles with addiction – and defining moments in the history of codependency. Good Morning, Destroy of Men’s Souls is a blazing, bighearted book that illuminates and adds nuance to the messy theaters between felinity, enabling, and love.”

Review: Good Morning, Destroyer of Men’s Souls is more than a small synopsis on the back of a book, it is more than a tiny review on a website or post on social media. It is an all encompassing work, a memoir and an unfaltering look into the heart of the AA, Al-Anon, codependency, trauma, tragedy, love, and growth. Aron is at times a young Joan Didion, basking in the warmth of the California sun, radiating the innocence only a new, young life in San Fransisco can. She wraps the reader in a golden glow, enveloped in the potential of a bright future yet to be seen as she emerges, newly 18, on the west coast – having traveled from the far side of the east coast, from New York, Philly, punk shows and hometown suburbia, to find something of her own, to cast her flag upon new soil; an explorer of new lands and a conqueror of life at once. We spend ever the briefest of stays in Didion-esque Northern California before Aron returns home, called upon by her family and the addiction that grips her sister and in turn the entirety of her familial home.
Aron discusses the addiction that codependents find themselves drowning within and the difficulties this level of love, attachment, desire, maybe even lust for the ability to fix it, bring. She waxes poetic on the love she has for the possibility, the person she knows the addicts in her life could be. If only, if only, if only. She struggles; we find her neck deep in an intense and toxic relationship with an old flame, K, yet another addict (heroin, among others). This time she isn’t a budding adult, she has children and a career, a home and a car, both physical and intangible belongings which are easily broken beneath the weight of addiction. Admitting her own codependency, she swings between fury and guilt; quoting Lois Wilson, she acknowledges her own brokenness in needing to fix: “Living with me would be such an inspiration, I thought, that he would not need the balm of alcoholic.” and “Alas, for the codependent, empathy springs eternal.” (220, 218) If she were Joan in a cozy, golden California, in the midst of a lifetime of crisis and trauma she is Melissa Febos – wildly educated, wholly sunk into addiction and love, and deeply, deeply vulnerable.
Reaching into the jagged edge of a wound, Aron uses Good Morning, Destroyer of Men’s Souls to tear herself open, slashed and flayed onto the page for the reader to soak in. We are privy to her agony, the newness of motherhood, of “babylove”, of the milky smell of a newborn, and in the same breath we feel her guilt and sorrow as she struggles to hold everything together, to keep the people around her from crumbling to pieces even as she realizes they already have. She uses herself, her own story of codependence, of being a widow to a man who has not died, of her own addictions to both love and substance, to take the reader on a trip through the confoundedness of addiction trauma and enabling. Aron has written a story that rages quietly, burning through the pages as she discusses the history of AA amidst the anguish of her own life. It is heart shattering, honest, and raw.

Advice: This is not an easy book to read, as I said, it’s brutally honest as Aron speaks of addiction and love in blunt terms. However, it is an absolute must-read, a book that will change you, move you, bring you to the page to write a review. It is a deeply personal memoir that I found often challenging in reading it – I absolutely recommend this book, I will be chewing on it for days to come.

Amateur Review

Book: Amateur
Author: Thomas Page McBee
Publisher: Scribner
Year: 2018
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Synopsis : “Amateur follows the author, a trans man, as he trains to fight in a charity match at Madison Square Garden while struggling to untangle the vexed relationship between masculinity and violence. Through his experience boxing — learning to get hit and to hit back, wrestling with the camaraderie of the gym, confronting the betrayals and strength of his own body — McBee examines the weight of male violence, the pervasiveness of gender stereotypes, and the limitations of conventional manhood. Interrogating masculinity as emotional landscape and cultural positioning, he binds his experience to a free-ranging examination of the ways in which men fail and are failed by our society.
At once a deeply reported narrative and an intensely personal journey, Amateur is ultimately a story of hope, as McBee traces a new way forward, a new way of being a man, in the ring and outside of it.”

Review: Thomas Page McBee’s Amateur is at once a study of masculinity within the boxing ring and a deeply moving study of gender in and out of the context of boxing. McBee struggles with the concept of manhood and embarks on this boxing journey to further understand his role in the world as a man. Sharing a unique perspective on toxic masculinity, McBee provides the reader with a deep understanding of the paradoxical world in which he lives; having once lived as a female and now living as a male in a time where men are viewed often as aggressive and dangerous, he finds himself fearful and apologetic.

Not only does McBee have a new realm of existence to explore, he discusses the implications of being a “real man” whose male role model growing up was his stepfather, a man under whom he experienced decades of sexual abuse. In exploring this relationship, McBee discusses the impact this understanding has on his siblings as they become parents themselves.

Delving into the world of boxing, McBee explores masculinity in terms of love, connection, emotions, and touch. He grapples with the loss of his mother, with understanding how to interact with the women in his life, and the perception the world holds of him both as a passing male and as an out trans man. We watch as McBee falls and grows, learning how to find himself, rather than the identity he seeks based on his gender.

My Advice: If you have any interest in reading memoirs, snag this book immediately. If you have any interest in gender roles, snag this book immediately. If you have any interest in boxing, snag this book immediately.

Abandon Me Review

Book: Abandon Me
Author: Melissa Febos
Publisher: Bloomsbury, USA
Year: 2017
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Synopsis: “Hailed by the New Yorker, Marie Claire, and Guernica for its “sheer fearlessness,” “ruthless honesty,” and “deep reserves of empathy,” Melissa Febos’s dazzling collection, Abandon Me, captures the intense bonds of love and the need for connection with family, lovers, and oneself. With it “she has emerged as one of our most creative and most unflinching memoirists, essayists, and teachers” (Los Angeles Review of Books).
In these linked essays, Febos tries to reconnect with her birth father and finds that an instinct for self-erasure binds them as surely as their blood. She remains closely tied to the loving sea captain who raised her, absent for months at a time. The hypnotic story of an all-consuming, long-distance affair with a woman marks her exploration of the worship and withdrawal that haunt her love life. Woven throughout is her insatiable hunger for self-knowledge, the difficult kind, and the powerful conviction that universal truths begin there. Abandon Me is at once a courageously vulnerable memoir and an incisive investigation of art, love, and identity.”

Review: Melissa Febos delivers a series of essays that weave her present with her past into a web of self understanding. She opens her wounds wide for the reader to fully experience, laying herself bare upon the pages of her memoirs.
On abandonment, she writes: “I want the people I love to do not as I would or have done, but whatever will keep them safe (…) There is a sorrow in me deeper than the regret of any cruelty for the fact of this: none of us could have protected each other. We could not even have protected ourselves.” (78).
On the early stages of love: “Love is so often a wish to have our wants seen and met, without having to ask” & “It is not easy to be seen, no matter how we crave it. It is not easy to look hard at the ones we love. It is always a little gruesome, as love is: full of contradictions and impossible promises” (103, 106).
On self discovery: “My stories are containers into which I pour myself and the indigestible parts of my experience (…) Once filled, they carry more of us than our lovers can bear, than we can. And sometimes they carry us away” (127).
On soured love: “I sat for hours in therapy sessions, searching for my feelings. I wanted to “get in touch with them.” I thought that when I finally found them it would be like a reunion with a childhood friend – emotional, surely, but also sweet – a reward for all my hard work. I did not think that I was leaving messages for a serial killer. I did not think that my feelings, receiving my invitation, would arrive on my doorstep like a cabal of madwomen and refuse to leave. I though that the host of the party decided when it ended and her guests went home. But feelings have terrible manners – they are like children, or drunks. They are mad. They gorge as the starved will gorge, until they are sick, until their stomach split (…) They do not leave when you want them to. They leave when they are finished” (213).
On her native heritage: “How could I ever know my own motives? The Pilgrims believed God had cleared a path, that the pestilence delivered by other whites was a path the Lord had cleared for them. They called it “The Miraculous Plague”. The natives called it “The Great Dying”” (287).
And on baring your soul to the page: “If you want to write about something, I tell them, you have to look at it. You have to look long enough that your own reflection fades” (292).

Abandon Me is complex and heartbreaking. It meets you in your own space and shows you pieces of your own self through lyrical essays that flow like water. Febos writes with metaphor, comparing the sun to a cup that has spilled onto the table, her emotions to a melon cracked upon the concrete, and her emptiness as a pit that cannot be filled. She invites the reader into her stories, allowing an intimate look at her darkest parts.

My Advice : This book is a must read. It is one of the most well written contemporary books I have read and will stick with me for a long time. It is deep and thoughtful; something to chew on. The book’s first fifteen pages are filled with glowing reviews and it is well deserved.