Reviews for The empathy exams : essays

by Leslie Jamison

Publishers Weekly
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Novelist Jamison's (The Gin Closet) first collection of essays, winner of the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize, is a heady and unsparing examination of pain and how it allows us to understand others, and ourselves. Whether she's playacting symptoms for medical students as a medical actor, learning about the controversial Morgellons disease (delusional parasitosis), or following ultramarathoners through the rugged Tennessee mountains, Jamison is ever-probing and always sensitive. Reporting is never the point; instead, her observations of people, reality TV, music, film, and literature serve as a starting point for unconventional metaphysical inquiries into poverty tourism, prison time, random acts of violence, abortion, HBO's Girls, bad romance, and stereotypes of the damaged woman artist. She focuses on physical and emotional wounds because, as she writes, "discomfort is the point. Friction arises from an asymmetry." For Jamison, that friction shatters the cliches about suffering that create distance between people, resulting in a more honest-and empathetic-way of seeing. Agent: Jin Auh, Wylie Agency. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Library Journal
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Jamison (The Gin Closet) notes that empathy is "a choice we make: to pay attention, to extend ourselves." In this collection of 11 essays, which take place in many different regions of the world including Central America, Bolivia, South Central Los Angeles, and Tennessee, the author does pay attention. She writes about a variety of subjects such as reality television, Tijuana, Frida Kahlo, ultra marathons, the West Memphis Three, illness, female suffering, and working as a medical actor, examining some very difficult topics with intelligent candor. The types of empathy-self, painful, guilt, fearful-evoked when reading the pieces are as varied as their subject matter. Jamison illustrates self-empathy, for example, when openly describing traumatic events in her personal life, including when she was violently mugged in Nicaragua; cleverly woven into the retelling of this painful and terrifying ordeal is -Vladimir Propp's Morphology of the Folktale. VERDICT Winner of the 2011 Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize, these essays will inspire readers to reflect on their own feelings of empathy-not an easy feat in today's disinterested society. This provocative collection will appeal to many types of readers.-Erica Swenson Danowitz, Delaware Cty. Community Coll. Lib., Media, PA (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

*Starred Review* Jamison wrote about wounded women in her powerful novel, The Gin Closet (2010), and she pursues that subject in this collection of gutsy essays. But the line of inquiry that connects these riveting works of acute description and exacting moral calculus, these amalgams of memoir and risky investigative adventures is Jamison's attempt to discern and define empathy in diverse and dicey situations. She begins with an account of her experiences working as a medical actor, performing as patients with baffling ailments that medical students must diagnose, encounters that deliver the realization that empathy requires humility and imagination. She discloses her own medical travails and asks, When does empathy actually reinforce the pain it wants to console? Jamison's mission to put empathy to the test is more covert and even more provocative in her wrenching chronicles of drug-war-ravaged Mexico; Nicaragua, where a man attacks her and breaks her nose; a silver mine in Bolivia; and a Gang Tour in Los Angeles explorations that inject guilt into the equation. A tough, intrepid, scouring observer and vigilant thinker, she generates startling and sparking extrapolations and analysis. On the prowl for truth and intimate with pain, Jamison carries forward the fierce and empathic essayistic tradition as practiced by writers she names as mentors, most resonantly James Agee and Joan Didion.--Seaman, Donna Copyright 2014 Booklist