I wrote most of this review right after finishing the book (Bicycle Day 2018--see below). I never posted it because I'd gone off on a rant about Cognitive Behavioral therapy and was too lazy to put the review back on track. I'm still too lazy but I found it interseting enough to tie together and post.
It's because of some article I read by her years ago, but I'd got it into my head that, like Yoko Ono is credited with ruining The Beatles, she was responsible for ruining Michael Chabon. I had always thought Mysteries of Pittsburgh and Wonder Boys his best work, which I imagined he wrote mostly pre-Ayelet. I would never have begun the current book were it not being discussed interestingly on line. And now, microdosing is a plot point in CBS TV's The Good Fight, a show about lawyers. (Coincidence?)
When I started, I found her annoying. In part it was her voice (in the audio version). She seemed angry at the world. As part of the world, I took this personally. I understood this anger was a component of what drove her to try microdosing in the first place.
However, she made me laugh often enough to continue. I knew early on that I was not in her target audience. I am a member of that previous generation, the one famous for its drug experimentation. I wonder why they call it "experimentation." Are the others the control group? My drug use was more "exploration."
I also knew much of the history she researched--I mean I knew, for example, that April 19th is celebrated in some quarters as Bicycle Day, the anniversary of when Albert Hoffman cycled home after trying LSD intentionally for the first time. I had read (and was inspired by) Richard Alpert's Be Here Now, a book she discusses on day 17 (a transition day--formula: divide the day by 3.
a remainder of 1 is a dose day and 2 a transition day, 0 a normal day)
I never thought the drug war was anything but a bad idea at best and racist political posturing at worst. (Lee Atwater has admitted its racist and anti-progressive roots.) Like another goodreads reviewer, I came for the gossip about her marriage, and also about her experience of microdosing since my doses had mostly been pretty mega. I stayed for the politics and the self-hate.
As I read on, I decided to like her, despite what she called her bitchiness (not something I'd say she experiments with). I asked myself, would I want to be her therapist, (note: I am a psychoanalyst) or would I assign a St. Fu robot to her case instead? (If you have not read the book, one of her therapists asked her which areas of her life she'd rather have a robot perform, assuming it did so as well as she would in person.) I answered that I would probably start out treating her myself and send in the bot later when her I began to take in how difficult it is for her to let go of her habitual behaviors.
I was won over to her side by her public defender drug cases, in which she fights to save the powerless from an unjust system which could care less what happens to the poor and brown. Then, I was touched by her yearly MDMA sessions to reconnect with her husband. If you've ever taken it, I'm sure you'll appreciate this annual ritual.
I wanted to ask her how she accounts for the fact that she manages to produce way more books than many writers with considerably less self-hate can stand to finish. There must be a part of her that also finds herself more likable than she is telling us.
It's interesting that she chose CBT treatment. Albert Ellis, her father's shrink, pioneered a technique called Rational Therapy that was a forerunner of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
Ayelet, like so many in today's interior-denying (that last word borrowed from Marilynne Robinson's Absence of Mind) culture, thinks in terms of mood, a mysterious chemically backed substrate to her experience. This formulation removes her agency and motivations from the equation.
Compare this approach to the pseudonomous Lazlo. He's always unhappy but then, he takes ayahuasca, not to fix his chemicals but to understand what his unhappiness is about. In the end, realizing his father didn't reject him, allows him to be happy without taking more drugs. The change was not to his brain (though that probably changed as well) but to his understanding.
I wonder if CBT isn't the wrong therapeutic approach for someone as self-hating as Ms. Waldman. I can see its appeal for a controlling person, suggesting that she has that level of conscious self-restraint to countermand her impulse to pick a fight with her husband. Unfortunately, she routinely fails at it and ends up blaming herself for her failure, thus increasing her self-hate.
(Feel free to skip the further psychological speculation follows:)
I see her failure as coming from the strength of the feeling she would have to deny. Denying part of yourself is difficult, which is why dieting rarely succeeds. The feeling she'd be fighting in this case is the same that lies behind her becoming a lawyer crusading for justice. When you are unloved, only justice can get you what you need. She has trouble accepting that her husband loves her, bursting into tears even to entertain the notion that his love isn't a big mistake on his part. How else can she explain that her father prefers to discuss Zionism than be a loving father, other than it being her own deficiency, exemplified by her inability to accept him as he is (her belief that you can't change anyone, thus improving your mood is all you can do)? The CBT solution is like a legal settlement, a conflict resolved by decree though making no one happy. She finds herself looking for alternative fathers none the less.
But back to the book: It's well researched, easy to read, engaging in that she doesn't hide behind her roles and expertise much of the time.
(Perhaps I should have limited my review to the previous sentence--a micro review instead of an overdose. Then I'd have posted it over a year ago.)