The End of Many Books

The Deep Places

by Ross Douthat

In the movie Shadowlands, C. S. Lewis has a student whose father used to tell him, “We read to know we’re not alone.” The line comes up a couple times in the movie, and even if the actual history is apocryphal (it seems that the quote should be attributed to William Nicholson who wrote the movie), the truth of it is applicable.

Chronic pain/illness is no joke. It’s not just what it messes up (your plans, your budget, etc.), but what it messes with (your perspective, your sense of being). Any pain is a problem, but pain that can be quickly named, pain that is more acute, often presents as more manageable, even understandable. Ongoing pain, and pain that is obtuse, as in resistant to more tidy categories and treatments, can make it seem like at least a neighborhood of hell broke loose in your little part of the world. Add to that the tiresome report to the recurrent question of how you’re feeling: “still not good.”

Douthat includes this quote from Alphonse Daudet:

“Pain is always new to the sufferer, but loses its originality for those around him.”

I’ve read and enjoyed a number of Douthat’s columns at the NYT. He is regularly interesting whatever his subject, and in The Deep Places he tells his story of Lyme disease in a (too) relatable way. He doesn’t label the stages, but he describes the frustrations, the exasperations, the questions, the doubts, the anger, the rises and falls of hopes, the hours of research and appointments, and frenzied trials and dispiriting errors.

I wasn’t as benefited by his comments on COVID connections near the end of the book, but the pandemic was part of the “pile” of providences that added onto his physical problems, so not irrelevant. Watch out for some vulgar language, but you can appreciate the tormenting pains and get a sense of what it’s like to carry them. Or, if you’re someone who has similar problems, you can read and appreciate that you’re not alone.

4 of 5 stars