By: A.M. Larks
Nothing other than fate can attribute to my review on Megan Stielstra’s book, The Wrong Way to Save Your Life, which took place a week after the events in Charlottesville (which occurred on August 12, 2017), when I was supposed to have received it a month prior. During the last week, the fear for our country has increased, it is undeniably pervasive and palpable. This fear is in every conversation, every communication, and every action or reaction. Fear is exactly what Stielstra tackles in her book. Stielstra ties the broad and the specific by examining fear at its roots, fear in her own life, and fear in everybody’s lives. Written before the November 2016 election, she comments on the fear rhetoric building at that time (which seems to have reached a violent pinnacle with Charlottesville), claiming that we must work through fear by confronting that which lies on the other side. Her words are startlingly prophetic:
You might want to move on, to turn it off, watch something else—but wait, look again. Look closer. How was it made? When was it made? What was happening when it was made? What are you going to do about it? And when are you going to start?
Now I think.
Steilstra’s examination of fear begins at the origins of her own fears, her childhood: her fear of heights, fear of wiener dogs, fears that bleed into dreams; like the failure to speak in front of a crowded room or failing at her job. When she writes of her childhood nightmares featuring the 1978 TV series Hulk, she simultaneously conveys the hysterical absurdity and intense emotions of childhood. Hulk was her boogeyman. She feared that he would drag her down, down under the bed, down to the basement (where he, of course, lived). This fear seems less naïve when Stielstra describes Banner (Ferrigno) by the open voiceover, “Until he can control the raging spirit that dwells within him.” The Hulk may have had an unconscious influence on Stielstra’s childhood, but in this book, he serves as a representative of the battler we all face: the one to control our own raging spirit. By reflecting on her fear of the Hulk, she is speaking to every uncontrolled raging monster.