Book Review: Traci Foust Talks OCD, Family Fun and Burning Eyeballs in Nowhere Near Normal
By Heather Logue on Apr 29, 2011
While the majority of California youth were skipping rope and collecting beetles, Traci Foust was scrubbing her hands with Ajax until her skin peeled off, and locking her best friend in a sweltering car, wondering if maybe she would kill her. Yes, these activities are…different, but that is the beauty of Foust’s memoir, Nowhere Near Normal, its utterly distinctive take on childhood. For any of us who have ever turned the car around on the way to work because we’re positive the stove could miraculously have turned itself on (ahem, just once or twice), learning about a girl’s struggle growing up with severe OCD is captivating. The story unfolds with the Foust parents divorcing—the family splitting apart into two locations, and Traci really beginning to struggle with the compulsions and anxieties that make her “abnormal” and drive her family insane. Who needs to unplug all of the appliances every night and lick the electrical sockets? Traci does, because otherwise her family may burn to death in their beds. This frank, strange, and unapologetic logic is what makes Traci a likable (though complicated) narrator. The story leads us through her increasingly complex relationships with her mother and sister, and through the haze of their cigarette smoke we see how lonely it is to be such a different kind of girl. The glance at various approaches to child psychology also intrigues—especially when seeing which professional methods actually have any affect on Traci’s recovery.
As Traci continues to grow up the story electrifies with things at a breaking point with her newly, and zealously, religious mother—culminating in Traci’s impromptu trip to Santa Cruz, a land of sex, drugs, and poetry. Though she eventually returns home, Traci still feels lost, and when Part Three of the memoir opens with news of her mother’s death (a subject touched upon much too briefly)…things seems bleak. The lack of emphasis on her family connectivity towards the end of the book is my only complaint—it feels a little insufficient in contrast to the palpable emotions early on.
But Nowhere Near Normal does inspire in the end, with a conclusion as distinctive as the entertaining and hilarious voice that has been leading us on this trip. Foust has a knack for making you love her, even if her character isn’t always likeable, and even a description of how her great-grandmother tried to burn her own eyeballs with matches is somehow lyrical.
As Edgar Allen Poe (her favorite poet growing up) once wrote, “From childhood’s hour I have not been as others were; I have not seen as others saw; I could not bring my passions from a common spring. From the same source I have not taken my sorrow; I could not awaken my heart to joy at the same tone; And all I loved, I loved alone.”
And really, I couldn’t sum it up any better.
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