Author: Jessie Sholl
Publication Date: December 28, 2010
Publisher: Gallery Books
Page Count: 336
Source: ARC from the author for review
In this candid memoir, Jessie Sholl explores the psychological disorder of compulsive hoarding. Intricately weaving the story of her life as the child of a hoarder, Sholl reveals the depth of pain and destruction that this disease can bring to a family.
As the story opens, Jessie’s mother calls to tell her that she has cancer and must sign over her house to Jessie. Horrified that her mother has cancer, but even more terrified that she might be responsible for her mother’s hoarded house, Jessie boards a plan from NYC to her hometown in Minnesota to help her mother get her affairs in order before her surgery and to help her mom clean her house. Through the mass of broken appliances, duplicate items purchased from the local Savers store, garbage, unopened mail, and books, Sholl attempts to reason with her mother and come to some kind of understanding as to why she is a hoarder. Although there is one specific event that intensified the situation, Sholl clearly explores situations throughout her childhood where this disorder manifested itself in other ways – disordered thinking, compulsive shopping, indecisiveness, and times of abuse directed at Sholl.
The clean-up is only a very small portion of the book. Returning to NYC after the surgery, Jessie discovers small bites on her ankles, then welts and other bite marks over the rest of her body. Then her husband, David, starts itching, too. Going from doctor to doctor and trying medication after medication, Jessie’s mother finally tells her what she thinks it is – and it’s pretty horrifying. Another after-effect of the hoarded house that will cause severe psychological and physical stress to Sholl, her husband, her father, and her stepmother, who were all in contact with the house in some way. Fed up, Jessie makes a vow – she is never going inside her mother’s house again.
But can she keep that promise to herself? Can she control her compulsion to not want to clean her mother’s house, which may be just as strong as her mother’s compulsion to hoard?
I think this book was a very therapeutic endeavor for the author and helped her to understand her mother’s disease more in depth. Sholl is a talented writer who offers an honest portrayal into an otherwise “dirty secret”. Shows like Hoarders and Hoarding: Buried Alive are providing some light into the disorder, but I feel they are only scratching the surface and focusing more on the cleanup rather than on the psychological aspect of the disorder – the WHY it’s happening is what I am interested in. I have to wonder how many of these homes go right back to being hoarded after the cameras are turned off. In this memoir, Sholl is able to weave research studies and psychological input regarding hoarding into her story which helps to define the disorder to readers who may not otherwise understand why someone would hoard. It would be very easy to tell a hoarder just “clean it up” or “get rid of it”, but it is important to understand that the mind-set of someone who hoards is very different and s/he is unable to toss something without feeling like they are throwing out a piece of themselves.
This is a wonderfully written book that is very easy to read and and provides much-needed insight into what is a publicly ostracizing disorder. I can understand the author’s hesitation in wanting to disclose her personal connection to hoarding, but I applaud her for having the courage to do so. We need more books like this so we can understand this disease more fully. I highly recommend this book.
About the Author:
Jessie Sholl is the author of Dirty Secret: A Daughter Comes Clean About Her Mother’s Compulsive Hoarding. She’s also the coeditor of the nonfiction anthology Travelers’ Tales Prague and the Czech Republic and a contributor to EverydayHealth.com. Her essays and stories have appeared in national newspapers and journals, and she holds an MFA from The New School University, where she currently teaches creative writing.
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