TRASH is one of the most disturbing memoirs in a while, and is a perfect example of how reading memoirs -- especially personal ones -- can sometimes feel voyeuristic. One Goodreads user, whose name I cannot remember at the moment sadly, refers to these types of books as "misery memoirs." They are memoirs of abuse or squalor, and the sole purpose of the books seems to be to shock (even if that isn't the actual purpose). In TRASH, Britney Fuller describes what her life was like living with a semi-abusive hoarder.
Having finished the book, all I can say is: holy fucking shit.
The hoarding that went on in the Fuller household is truly disgusting. What makes it even more disgusting is that Britney's mother was a chef -- considering her mother's personal habits, she shouldn't have been allowed anywhere near food being prepared for the public's consumption.
What, exactly, happened in this book? Welllllll...
Britney's mother was obese and had a lot of sores from the unsanitary conditions of the house. She got naked the moment she got home from work and sat around and wandered around in the nude. Even when she was on her period (and no, she didn't use pads or tampons). When Britney was "bad", Britney's mother made her scrub her period blood from the floor and the bathroom.
Britney's mother also didn't feel the need to get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. She would pee her bed, rather than get up. She did this so often that the sheets were soaked with urine every day, which she then made her daughter wash. Her mattress actually had an indent from all the peeing. When Britney fractured her hip at one point, the pee-divot was deep enough that when Britney lay on her mother's bed, it actually elevated her leg. (Shudder.)
Rats and mice lived in the house, and also birds at one point. There was so much mold that Britney had bacterial bronchitis six times while living with her mother, coughing up bloody phlegm and actually throwing up and passing out several times.
Britney's mother also filled her car with trash. She volunteered at a church, and fed the kids in the church snacks which she kept in this same car. Ew! At one point, Britney has to borrow the car for work, and cleans it out with the help of her boyfriend. They find rotting food and fruit flies that have been living in the car for so long, in the darkness, that they have become albino. (Fruit flies have short lifespans and breed quickly, so genetic mutations so up quickly, making them ideal for study.)
It was Britney's job to clean up after her mother, and if she didn't do a satisfactory job, she was punished. I think her mother had a lot of issues that weren't really touched upon in this book. I would guess she had OCD (hoarding is a type of OCD -- it's also the hardest variety to treat), and at least one type of mood disorder, just based on the symptoms, but it's hard to tell because this is only Britney's side of the story and she's obviously (and understandably) not unbiased.
I devoured this book in just under a day. Britney's life was so awful that it was like a train wreck, I couldn't look away -- I had to find out what was going to happen next, and how she was going to get out of this mess (would she get out of this mess?). The squalor was awful, and so was her mother's abuse, but Britney was also having a lot of trouble fitting in at school, and as someone who was bullied, I could really relate to her sense of loneliness and isolation.
One thing that did upset me was how much pressure Britney put on her boyfriend, Adam. She decided that he was going to be her knight in shining armor, to the point where she wouldn't let him go to Utah to pursue his dreams because it was his job to spirit her away from her mother. They had a big fight, with Britney pressuring him to call off his trip and stay with her. I hate to say it, but this really made me angry. Considering how fucked up her family was, it's pretty amazing that Adam didn't just turn and run. Boxing him into a corner like that seemed really wrong. I mean, I get that she was desperate and didn't have a lot of options, and I can't even put myself into her shoes and imagine what it would be like to be afraid to come home, but I could understand what it would be like to have someone decide that you're meant to be their saving grace (because this has happened to me), and I just cringed all over. Because love cannot be one's salvation, contrary to what the new adult books these days would have you believe. Only you can fix your problems. Sometimes you need the help of others, but you have to take the initiative to get the help, however possible. Other people can't make you feel whole if you're broken inside, and using love -- or attraction -- as a cure is tantamount to sticking a broken vase back together with Scotch tape.
Apart with this one issue, I really enjoyed this book. Well...enjoyed is probably the wrong word. I found this book fascinating. Even if it was a misery memoir, and even if my main reaction after reading it was, "Thank God I don't have to put up with this shit -- literally!" (No, seriously, literally.)
A year ago, I was approved for HYPERBOLE AND A HALF on Netgalley. It was one of the best, most honest memoirs that I have ever read. There was so much I could relate to. Allie Brosh has such a raw and honest style of writing, made better by her simple yet hilarious cartoons, and to this date, I think that her famous depression comic is the most accurate portrayal of the disorder.
When I saw Bruce Kaplan's memoir, I WAS A CHILD, on Netgalley, almost a year later, my first thought was, "Oh, here it comes, the copycats begin." Because I WAS A CHILD looked like a blatant attempt to piggyback on the success of Allie Brosh's memoir. But sometimes I have been pleasantly surprised by books, and HYPERBOLE was so good that I was left in a book funk for a while after finishing it, so I read this with hope.
I WAS A CHILD was a terrible book. The cover is misleading; it makes you think that this is going to be a graphic novel. It isn't. Kaplan opens each section with a few sentences and then has one doodle accompanying it. The doodles are about as elaborate as what you would see in a Shel Silverstein poem except considerably less charming and detailed. I really didn't care for them.
Kaplan's memoir itself reads like a guy on a first date trying to make his mundane and trivial life sound epic and interesting. He's eloquent, I guess, but that's the only thing he has going for him. Towards the end, when Kaplan writes about growing up in the fifties, the memoir gets a little better, but I wasn't won over. Even at the end, when he talks about his parents both succumbing to cancer, Kaplan sounded so detached. Maybe that was grief, but even so, he wasn't someone I could relate to. Everything about this just seemed so calculated and impersonal.
Plus, I hate to say it, but he seems like a strange and not very nice person.
Here are some quotes:
We had a hamster who we named Hampy. One day, she somehow gave birth to baby hamsters and we clamored around her tank, looking at them. Then we watched in horror as Hampy ate all her babies. My mother told us it was because we scared Hampy.
I felt we were too much for Hampy, just as we were too much for her (20).
That is literally the exact same thing, only restated. I think he meant to say, "just as she was too much for us."
Everything in our house was repaired with Scotch tape. If a paint chip was coming off, it was taped down. If there was a tear in the lamp shade, a piece of tape was put on it.I felt held together by Scotch tape, and still do (33).
Oh, please. What is this, 2005? Go listen to some Smile Empty Soul.
I loved crawlspaces under people's houses, and still do. I wish I could crawl under your house right now (96).
That's very creepy.
I just read this quote to my dad, and he said, "We have a slab. Good luck with that."
There was an annual school fair at Tuscan. Every year, I won a goldfish. It was always very exciting to carry it home in its bag and then very sad when you flushed it down the toilet a few weeks later (156).
How many times do you have to kill something before you realize you're not fit to take care of it?