THE EMPATHY EXAMS by Leslie Jamison

empathy-examsThis is a collection of essays about pain and unhappiness and sh*t that happens and our responses to our own pain and to the pain of others.  Since I am all about empathy and compassion and all that good stuff,  and try hard not to drive too far into Snarkyland without my GPS,  I figured that this was the book for me.

Except it wasn’t.  Geez, what a self-serving, egocentric  piece of it prestigious writer workshop claptrap that, as one reviewer put it,  “…just drips with MFA-ishness: for example, saying that “It was like something is XYZ, until it absolutely isn’t”.   

She examines all kinds of diverse situations of pain and unhappiness, such as a convention of people who have a non-disease they swear is real, a tour of riot-ruined L.A.,  a stint in Nicaragua where she got punched in the face by a mugger, (and frankly, after wading through this book I myself wanted to punch her in the face to remove the smug aren’t-I-just_so-terribly-erudite-and-precious look off her keyboard),  a wander through the story of three boys in Arkansas who got prison sentences for the murder of three other boys but it turns out twenty years later that maybe they didn’t murder those boys after all so they were released,  and yet we never felt she really felt sorry about any of this stuff she writes about  (except for the broken face which an ‘expensive surgeon’ in L.A. couldn’t really fix properly), but was more interested in showing us how she looked being empathetic about it all.

Oh, Buddha, save me from mannered expositions of the writer’s personal almost non-existent emotions.  A Kardashian-style look at events:  look at me looking at this event, this subject, this theme, except with less cleavage.  Self-righteous mutton dressed as lamb.  She tells us that Faulkner wrote “Tragedy is second-hand.”   And so is the empathy in this book.

For me, my only worthwhile takeaway from this book was, “You are a little soul carrying around a corpse.”    And it wasn’t even original.  Epicetus said that in the 100s AD.  Honey, take your skinny-assed, Harvard-degree corpse and maybe stick with the Iowa Writers Workshop fiction which you constantly tell us you write.

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