book reviews, mental health, narcissists, politicians, politics, Trump

A review of Trump on the Couch: Inside the Mind of the President, by Justin A. Frank, MD…

When Donald Trump was still POTUS, I bought a bunch of books about him. I haven’t managed to finish them all, even though he was voted out of office in 2020. I’m an avid reader, but I can’t read books as fast as I once did, when my eyes weren’t so old and I didn’t need to nap so much. Besides that, I find reading about Trump alternately infuriating and terrifying, even though he’s also a fascinating character. It shocks me that he’s able to get away with what he does, although it now appears that special super power could soon be about to end.

From the beginning of Trump’s “reign”, I have believed very strongly that he is a narcissistic sociopath or a malignant narcissist, or something of that order… I remember hearing back in the 80s what a scumbag he was, but at that time, I didn’t really care too much. I was a kid. Now that I’m middle aged, and see the damage that can be wrought by corrupt leaders who are so power hungry that they completely lose sight of responsibility and decency, I care a lot more about Trump and the many people who emulate and admire him.

In late March 2020, I downloaded Justin A. Frank’s book, Trump on the Couch: Inside the Mind of the President. Frank is a psychiatrist with several decades of experience in practicing and teaching psychiatry. According to his page on Amazon.com:

Justin Frank M.D. is a highly regarded psychoanalyst and teacher. A clinician with more than thirty year’s experience, Dr. Frank used the principles of applied psychoanalysis to assemble a comprehensive psychological profile of President George W. Bush in his 2004 New York Times bestselling book Bush on the Couch: Inside the Mind of the President (HarperCollins). His newest book, Obama on the Couch: Inside the Mind of the President is being published by Free Press/Simon & Schuster on October 18, 2011. 

Dr. Frank currently writes a biweekly column for Time.com. He also contributes to HuffingtonPost.com, DailyBeast.com and Salon.com, and is a frequent writer and speaker on topics as diverse as politics, film, and theater. He is Clinical Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at George Washington University Medical Center, and the co-director of the Metropolitan Center for Object Relations in New York.

Dr. Frank did his psychiatric residency at Harvard Medical School and was chief resident at the Cambridge Hospital. He was also awarded the DuPont-Warren Fellowship by Massachusetts General Hospital.

Dr. Frank lives in Washington DC.

As you can see, Dr. Frank has written several “on the couch” books about presidents. I haven’t read the other books, as before Trump came along, I didn’t care very much about politics. It’s been said that no person is 100 percent “bad”. I suppose that if I could say one thing good about Donald Trump, it’s that he has motivated people like me to care about who is leading the country, and whether or not they are fit to be in such a position. I have never thought Trump was “fit” to be president, although I do remember thinking he’d do better than Ted Cruz. At this point, though, I think I was mistaken about that.

After I finished Mary Trump’s book about what led the people of the United States to elect her corrupt uncle, I decided to read Dr. Frank’s book. I thought it would be a good follow up. I was right, even though Trump on the Couch was published in 2018, when Trump was still parking his fat ass in the White House. Even though Trump lost the election in 2020, he’s still very much in the news, still affecting our lives with his blustery rhetoric and uncanny ability to stimulate people with the worst of values to act in destroying our democracy. Trump will never change and, in fact, I think he’s gotten even worse. Dr. Frank explains why that is, as he introduces readers to Trump’s psyche, and what caused him to turn into the unhinged orange nightmare that he is today.

Trump on the Couch starts with Trump’s story, from the very beginning. Frank writes about Trump’s family history and the dynamics that shaped Donald Trump. I noticed that Frank seems to place a lot of emphasis on Trump’s Scottish mother, Mary, who left her homeland at age 18, fleeing the poverty she was raised in during the early 20th century. Mary Trump (Trump’s mom, not his niece) came to New York and found work as a housekeeper and nanny, until she met up and coming real estate magnate Fred Trump, Sr. They married, and had five children: Maryanne, Fred Jr., Elizabeth, Donald, and Robert.

Frank explains that Mary Trump was quite reserved under normal circumstances, and she had servants to do most of the housework. Consequently, she wasn’t a very “hands on mother”, even when she was healthy. But, when Mary gave birth to Donald’s younger brother, Robert, she almost died due to severe hemorrhaging. She had to spend many months resting, and afterwards, was left in fragile health. According to Dr. Frank, this less than devoted mothering had a profound effect on Donald, who was a child who needed a lot of attention. I found myself copying and sharing some of the passages from Frank’s book explaining this:

He was also kind of mean to his little brother, as Frank notes:

He was a creep, even when he was a child.

Because Trump was such a bratty little bastard, his father, who was quite strict, but mostly absent, decided to send Trump to a military boarding school. Trump went to New York Military Academy, where he ended up doing somewhat well, because it was a place where being ruthless and competitive was celebrated. But being at boarding school further separated Trump from his mother, and exacerbated his anxiety about maintaining control in every situation. Frank also writes that he thinks Trump may have a form of dyslexia, which makes it hard for him to comprehend language the way that most people do and causes more anxiety, which makes him less empathic to other people.

I noticed that Frank focused a lot on the psychodynamic aspects of mental health evaluation. His theories came across as very Freudian to me, with a lot of emphasis on Trump’s childhood and parents– particularly his mother. I found his observations to be interesting and mostly accurate, although I’m not sure the Freudian approach is always the best one when analyzing people today. But then, I know I don’t have Frank’s expertise or experience. Frank also frequently mentions the Austrian-British psychoanalyst and author, Melanie Klein, who was also very much influenced by Sigmund Freud. I wondered what approach Carl Jung would have taken toward Trump.

Frank follows Trump’s life to his time as POTUS, where he notes a lot of the antisocial and, frankly, unacceptable attitudes Trump brazenly displays toward women, people of color, or anyone else whom he doesn’t consider a “winner” of some sort. I enjoyed the analysis of Trump’s childhood the most interesting part of the book, as Frank explains how Trump’s upbringing helped make him in to who he is today. Once again, I found myself sharing astute quotes from the book:

There were a few times when I found Frank’s observations rather alarming, even though Trump left office. A lot of people would like to see Trump re-elected in 2024. I fear that outcome, because Trump can’t be controlled, and if he has nothing to lose, he will stop at nothing to get what he wants. He can’t legally run for a third time as president, but he made it very plain during his first term, that he’d like to change the laws so that he can stay in power for the rest of his life. And Frank makes it plain that Trump is the type of person who absolutely hates to lose, and can’t tolerate playing fairly. He has no sense of honor or decorum.

Dr. Frank’s book, Trump on the Couch, is very comprehensive, with detailed chapters on what he thinks makes Trump tick. He includes an extensive bibliography, as well as a glossary, that includes some Trump specific terms that explain certain traits and behaviors specific to Trump. One reviewer on Amazon.com recommended reading the glossary before reading the book. I don’t think that’s a bad idea. The reviewer also included this comment from Frank about Trump’s behavior and other people’s reactions to it:

“Idealization is the product of extreme splitting, beyond the simple internal world of good and bad, and into one that is ideal and awful. It transforms the perception of reality into something better; it may lay dormant in the unconscious and emerge when one falls in love or has a baby. Just as lovers see themselves – their best selves – in another, the electorate usually idealizes their candidate for higher office. Thus, Ann Coulter sounded like a betrayed lover when Trump signed a budget that didn’t include funding for the wall he promised her. When people feel understood by a leader – or by a therapist – they idealize that person. Trump’s base felt that he understood their frustration and pent-up rage, so they idealized him more than any American president in decades. He promised to ‘drain the swamp’ and destroy the self-centered elites. They [Trump’s supporters, not the self-centered elites] idealized him so much that he said he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose a vote, and no one corrected or contradicted him. They loved him: never have there been such long lines at campaign rallies as there were at Trump’s. He tapped into unconscious recall of the infant’s love for the parent, who can magically understand the child even before he has words” (pages 245-246).

However, because this book is hostile toward Trump’s image, I feel quite certain that Dr. Frank’s analysis comes only from books, interviews with people who know or have been exposed to Trump, and watching the way Trump behaves in public. He clearly didn’t interview Trump himself, which I think would make it difficult for his “diagnosis” to be taken as seriously as it might. And some people will read this book and think it’s “unfair”, because it’s biased against Trump. It’s quite obvious that Justin A. Frank is not a Trump admirer. But he does have to sell books to make the endeavor worthwhile, so my guess is that he sort of pandered to the “base” who would be interested in reading this book.

Overall, I found Dr. Frank’s analysis of Donald Trump to be accurate and interesting. Trump on the Couch is a quick and easy read, and will probably offer “confirmation bias” to those who are concerned about Trump’s influence on people. I do think it’s worth reading in 2022, even though it was written when Trump was still in office. Trump has made it clear that he’s not giving up on another run at the White House, even though he’s currently plagued with serious legal and financial issues. Dr. Frank makes it plain that people like Trump don’t change, and tend to get worse instead of better. Trump himself has said that he’s basically the same person he was when he was about eight years old. Let that sink in… and vote accordingly.

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A review of The Reckoning: Our Nation’s Trauma and Finding a Way to Heal, by Mary Trump

In August 2020, when the world was still in the desperate throes of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Donald Trump was still the POTUS, I read and reviewed his niece, Mary Trump’s, book Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man. I remember feeling vindicated as I read her words about her uncle, Donald Trump, whom I had correctly identified as a malignant narcissist or sociopath. Mary Trump wrote about what it was like to grow up in the Trump family, and how much she suffered, even though she was a member of a very wealthy, powerful, and celebrated clan. Unlike her uncle, Mary Trump is a basically normal person with an excellent intellect and a fully functioning id and superego. Mary’s first book was very interesting, but it was also terrifying. At the time I read it, I was genuinely frightened of what was going to happen if Trump won in 2020. Thankfully, that is not what came to pass, in spite of Trump’s relentless and nonsensical insistence that the presidential election was stolen from him.

I liked Mary Trump’s first book, so when she published her second book, The Reckoning: Our Nation’s Trauma and Finding a Way to Heal in August 2021, I was quick to download it. It’s taken me a year to finally read Mary Trump’s book, because it kept getting supplanted by other books. This morning, I finished it; it was a refreshingly short read, long on history and theories as to how the United States finds itself in the horribly polarized, angry, unhinged state it is in right now. Some of The Reckoning was uncomfortable to read, as Mary Trump unflinchingly writes of how Black people were treated before and during the Civil War era, as well as in the decades that followed it. She reminds her readers that slavery officially ended in 1865, but the persecution of Black people has continued since then, and only in very recent years have people of color had a chance to succeed in the country they helped build against their wills.

Mary Trump rightfully points out that American high schoolers are not taught enough about American history. What they are taught is the “white” perspective of American history, and now that people are insisting that more of the whole truth is taught, many white people are fighting to prevent it from happening. Trump explains that every white person is born with inherent privilege, simply for having white skin. However, she also mentions poor white people, who also suffer due to classism that also exists in our society, and the mistaken belief that sharing resources means having less for themselves. And she reminds readers that there are many people who, consciously or unconsciously, are doing all they can to maintain things the way they’ve always been. Her uncle, after all, won the highest election on his platform, “Make America Great Again”, having never before held public office. Lots of people in the United States are terrified of evolving into a nation that plays on more level ground for everyone. Below are a couple of key quotes from Mary Trump’s book that really summed up things nicely, in my view:

I remember when I was an English major at Longwood University (then Longwood College), my advisor gave me a hard time because I didn’t want to take a Shakespeare class. Instead, I was interested in the Women’s Literature and African American Literature courses that were being offered. I thought I would be more interested in the subject matter, having already been exposed to Shakespeare in high school and college. Good ol’ Dr. Stinson, who also used to tease me about all the music classes I insisted on taking for fun, sighed and signed me up for both classes. I took both courses during the same semester, and got a huge dose of studying lesser known books by women and people of color.

I didn’t do particularly well in either of the lit courses; because to be honest, I was kind of a lazy English major. I wanted to write things, not read and analyze literature. But I learned new things in spite of myself. Both courses exposed me to works written by Black authors, Black women’s writings, as well as slave narratives, which were bits of history that had been withheld from me in the years leading up to college. I now believe that high school students should read at least one slave narrative. The subject matter is tough, but it definitely inspires empathy and a broadened perspective from writers who should get a lot more recognition.

I mention my college experience and the attitude surrounding the importance of Shakespeare, because Mary Trump repeatedly explains that most Americans have a poor understanding of history. And today, in high schools across the country, there are legislators, school boards, and parents who are lambasting against “Critical Race Theory” being taught in schools, and trying desperately to suppress the truth about America’s past. I never thought I’d see the day when so many school systems were being pressured to ban certain books, and teachers, already overworked and underpaid, were being forced to catalog their libraries and submit them to scrutiny by third parties. I was heartened to see the outraged response to one Tennessee school district’s decision to ban Art Spiegelman’s excellent graphic novel, Maus. I had not read that book myself, before it made the news. But because Maus was in the news, I decided to read the book. It was life changing. I now know that simply by writing a few blog posts about Maus, I helped inspire other people to read the book.

Mary Trump’s comments were unpleasant to read at times. She states outright that it’s “impossible” to be a white person who grew up in the United States and not be racist. She’s probably right, although I hesitate to use words like “all, every, or impossible”, because experience has shown me that there are almost always exceptions to every rule. And given the family that raised her and what her family spawned, I was caught between disbelief that she was making such a statement, and relief that she could acknowledge racism in a way that was surprisingly humble.

I also found this book a little bit depressing and hopeless. Yes, it’s important to acknowledge problems. That’s the first step in correcting them. It’s important to atone for wrongs committed. That’s the best way to promote healing. BUT… she makes the problem seem so entrenched and deep seated that fixing it seems extremely difficult. It won’t happen in my lifetime, although the more optimistic side of me acknowledges that in my 50 years, there’s already been some substantial progress made. I was born in an era when things were a lot more “black and white”, so to speak. It wasn’t uncommon to hear people casually toss around the “n word”, for instance, especially on television. But that progress is hindered, because of Trump’s uprising and the many emboldened racists who are desperately trying to stop progress, and resorting to cheating and violence to get what they want.

Anyway… The Reckoning offers a lot of food for thought. It’s a short book, and easy to read. Mary Trump’s writing is engaging and informative. Maybe some readers will be uncomfortable, or even offended, by her comments. Some people might have trouble believing that someone with her background can have true empathy for the downtrodden; she is a Trump, after all. But in spite of that, I found Mary Trump’s commentary steeped in truth, and eye-opening. I think this is a good book. But don’t come to it looking for dirt on Donald Trump. She wrote about him in her first book, and The Reckoning is about a different topic entirely. The Reckoning isn’t about Trump; it’s about what led us to Trump. And it offers an important warning to us all to open our eyes and our minds and vote accordingly… or else.

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A review of Fullness: A Memoir, by Azure Moyna…

This morning, I did something I haven’t been able to do in a long time. I read an entire book in one sitting. Amazon.com tells me I downloaded Azure Moyna’s 2020 book, Fullness: A Memoir, in April of this year. But I only just got around to reading it. I started reading it a few days ago, but fell asleep before I got through the first chapter. That’s not because of the writing, but more because, lately, I tend to fall asleep when I try to read.

I woke up at about 3:30am this morning, partly because I needed to use the bathroom, and partly because I’ve been upset about a few things. I tried to go back to sleep, but couldn’t. So I started reading Moyna’s story about her issues with compulsive overeating disorder. I soon realized it was one I could relate to on many levels. I kept reading and, six and a half hours later, I was finished with the book. I found it very compelling and well-written.

Who is Azure Moyna?

Azure Moyna grew up in the 1990s in the Bay Area of California. She has a younger brother named Jake, and until she was twelve years old, Azure’s parents were unhappily married. In descriptive, engaging prose, Azure describes the hell of being raised by her parents. Azure’s mother is described as manipulative and neglectful, the victim of domestic violence perpetrated by Azure’s father. Azure’s father is described as super intelligent, the recipient of dual doctorates in engineering. He was also the worst kind of bastard– an alcoholic, malignant narcissist who treated his ex wife and children with utter contempt. As a child, Azure and Jake were sent to “watch TV” while Azure’s father beat the shit out of her mother. Meanwhile, Azure’s father would say the most vulgar, demeaning, insulting things to his family members, especially Azure, who struggled with her weight from an early age.

Making matters worse was the fact that Azure’s mom and brother were able to eat whatever they wanted and stay thin naturally. But Azure took after her father, a man who had once been fat, but somehow lost the extra weight. Azure was never able to get thin enough, in spite of dieting and exercising. She had an addiction to food, and would eat to soothe herself after witnessing the horrific abuse her father perpetrated toward her brother and mother, or experiencing it herself. She was constantly shamed, belittled, and humiliated by her father, who would buttress his abuse with threats against her life. Once, when she was a child, police officers came to Azure’s school to ask her about her homelife, as Jake had told a mandated reporter that he was being abused. When the cops asked Azure about her experiences at home, she lied to them. They knew she was lying, but she wouldn’t crack and tell on her father. The risks were too great.

Because of her weight– and probably because she lived in California– Azure experienced a number of truly mortifying incidents due to being “fat”. As someone who has also struggled with my weight, I could relate to her pain, although mercifully, I was never treated nearly as badly as she was. What made things especially bad was that she would get horrifying comments from total strangers or people she was paying for services. She never mentions what her highest weight was, although she does mention a few sizes. Again, I’m sure that because she was living in California, where people seem to be especially concerned about their body images, it was probably much worse than it might have been somewhere else.

In spite of being fat, Azure managed to marry a nice man named Sean. Sean is cute, of Filipino heritage, and Azure says people couldn’t believe she was married to him, because he was good looking. I relate to that commentary, as a couple of my relatives told me that they were surprised by how cute Bill is. Pro tip– that is a really shitty thing to say to someone. Although he’s straightened out by the time Azure connects with him, Sean has a history of abusing drugs and was once in a car accident that almost took his life. He had been driving under the influence. Apparently, that brush with death prompted Sean to ditch drugs, although he does continue to drink alcohol.

The book’s format

Azure Moyna titles each chapter of Fullness with a food that has caused her significant angst in one way or another. The chapters are short and engaging, with a story involving the chapters food title. The stories are set at different times in Azure’s life, childhood, adolescence, or early adulthood, with some vignettes flashing back to earlier times. For example, in a chapter titled “Mr. Goodbar”, Azure relates the heartbreaking story of visiting her grandmother’s house and not being allowed to enjoy the treats freely offered to her brother. Grandma, who is petite, tells Azure that she doesn’t take after her side of the family, and she should stop complaining and enjoy a piece of grapefruit while Jake eats donuts.

The family then goes to Sizzler, where Azure’s cousins and uncle make fun of a morbidly obese woman they see carrying a full plate of food. They warn Azure that she will suffer the same fate if she doesn’t lose weight. After the humiliating dinner, which Azure wasn’t able to eat, they visit a dollar store. Azure impulsively steals a Mr. Goodbar, stuffing it into her pants and sneaking it out of the store. She eats the candy in the bathroom, hiding the wrapper in the trash. She thought she’d gotten away with it, but then her mother demands to see her clothes, where she discovers the telltale melted chocolate stains. Soon, Azure is marched back to the store to confess her crime and pay the cashier, who then lectures her about stealing in front of other customers.

Other chapters are similar, with stories that left me furious for Azure, and the many adults in her life who failed her when she was a child. She doesn’t shy away from using the language she probably heard, especially from her father, who was truly a vicious, vile, contemptible man who was good at charming people. Behind closed doors, he terrorized his daughter and abused her in so many ways. Food was the one substance that comforted her, as everyone around her treated her like she was defective and totally undesirable.

Recovery

One day, Azure learns about compulsive overeating disorder and sees herself in the symptoms. She seeks out a therapist and finds one online, a licensed counselor named Sylvie who specializes in eating disorders. Sylvie actually seems pretty competent to me, and I was surprised to read about how successful their work was, at least at first. Sylvie pushes Azure to stand up for herself and recommends antidepressants and Overeaters Anonymous (OA) meetings. Azure doesn’t agree with either of those treatment modalities.

I was a little surprised by Azure’s attitude regarding antidepressants. When I was in my 20s, I took antidepressants for several years, and once I found the right one, it was life changing for me. But according to Fullness, Azure tried one dose of Prozac and quit. I can speak from personal experience that Prozac isn’t a wonder drug for everyone. In my case, Wellbutrin was the right medicine. I’m surprised she wasn’t encouraged to try other antidepressants. I was also a little dismayed to read that she got a prescription from a family doctor instead of a psychiatrist. I think a psychiatrist would have been a lot more helpful in this instance.

As for OA, I can understand why the 12 step modality wasn’t necessarily helpful for Azure. I used to attend ACOA (Adult Children of Alcoholics) meetings, and they were only a little bit helpful for me. I also had the unfortunate experience of meeting an abusive creep in those meetings. I’ve written about that situation in this blog, so I won’t describe it again here. Suffice to say, that situation kind of turned me off of 12 step meetings.

The therapist also recommended an inpatient program, which Azure didn’t think she could do because of her job. I can understand that, as well, as the program that therapist suggested was three months in duration. However, because Azure wasn’t willing to take any of Sylvie’s recommendations, she basically got “fired” as a client. I’m sure that was very disappointing for Azure.

Overall

I found Fullness very compelling reading. Azure Moyna writes well, and her story is very relatable to a lot of Americans– especially the parts about what it’s like to be overweight in a culture that reveres thinness and encourages people to see being thin as the only measure of a person’s worth or beauty. Azure is clearly younger than I am, so she hasn’t reached that stage of life at which people stop judging her “hotness”. What seemed to really help Azure was becoming a mother and losing her father. She had spent her whole life trying to satisfy a man who would never be satisfied. It’s a shame that apparently no one told her to simply go no contact with him, because he had absolutely nothing positive to offer her. Like all narcissists, he used her and targeted her for abuse, gaining fuel by targeting his ugliness at her.

I think this book would have been stronger if Azure had written more about how she managed to overcome her problems. Most of the book is about the horrific abuse and humiliating situations she found herself in due to her dysfunctional family and her problems with food. I think a couple, or even a few, more chapters would have been useful in explaining how she got better. She is now working as a “coach” herself, but she doesn’t really offer any insight as to how she got to that place.

I just checked Amazon’s reviews. At this writing, there is a single one star review, supposedly written by her brother, who claims his real name is Ryan. He says she has maliciously maligned their family, and unfairly painted their father in a bad light. His writing is pretty poor, but if there’s any truth to what he wrote, there is obviously more to the story. I also raised my eyebrows when Azure describes herself as “HUGE” because she needs a size 16. That is not a small size, but it’s certainly not huge. But again, she lives in California, where maybe a lot of people do see size 16 as huge. I would invite Azure to go spend some time in Missouri or Mississippi, though… because the cultures there are very different.

I do think this is a very interesting book. It’s basically well-written, and some of the stories are jaw dropping. Quite a few of them pissed me off and reminded me of similar experiences I’ve had. I think a lot of readers will like this book. However, as I’m sitting here thinking about it, I think she should have written a few more chapters and included more about how she got better… and how that serves her today. It seems like a lopsided, incomplete book, even though I found it hard to put down.

On the positive side, I think it’s great that Azure Moyna has written about compulsive overeating disorder. It IS a real eating disorder that affects many people. It doesn’t get enough press. And I do think there will be a lot of people who will feel recognized by reading this book. But I also think this book could be better. On a scale of one to five stars, I think I would award four– because it was so hard to put down, and because it’s a memoir on an eating disorder that needs more coverage. I will warn that this book could be pretty triggering for some readers, especially those who can’t handle vile language and descriptions of abuse.

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A review of Still Just a Geek: An Annotated Memoir by Wil Wheaton…

As a card carrying member of Generation X, I grew up watching a lot of cable TV. Sometimes, I also went to the movies. In fact, I went to the movies a lot more often in those days than I do today. In any case, at some point in my adolescence, I saw the 1986 Rob Reiner film Stand By Me. Based on a spooky novella by Stephen King, Stand By Me was a coming of age film starring Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, and Jerry O’Connell. They were four 1959 era twelve year old boys from Castlerock, Oregon, who set out on a mission to see a dead body. On their way to find the body, the boys bond and have some near misses with both nature and technology.

Stand By Me also had a great soundtrack.

As most of Stephen King’s stories are, this one– originally known as “The Body”– was very poignant, compelling, and sometimes even funny. It also had four teenaged stars in it who were about my age. Most of my peers loved River Phoenix, who was an up and coming star. Tragically, he died in 1993 at just 21 years old, a victim of a drug overdose in Los Angeles. I was telling Bill last night that if River had lived beyond young adulthood, he would have been an enormous star.

I liked River fine, but Wil Wheaton’s performance in Stand By Me was the one that always stuck with me. He played the sensitive, thoughtful, aspiring writer, Gordie Lachance. I identified with Gordie, because I had my own aspirations of becoming a writer. In those days, I wrote a lot of fiction. Also, my journalism teacher in tenth grade was named Mr. LaChance, and I liked him, and that class. I probably should have stuck with journalism.

Stand By Me was probably the only vehicle of which I’ve seen much of Wil Wheaton’s acting, except for maybe guest spots on 80s era television shows. I see he was a guest on Family Ties, which was one of my favorite shows, back in the day. He was also on St. Elsewhere, although I didn’t really watch that show, because it was on past my bedtime. He was on Tales from the Crypt, which was a great HBO show I watched when I had the opportunity, and he voiced Martin in the film, The Secret of NIMH. Wheaton also famously played Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Apparently, Wesley Crusher was aptly named, because based on Wheaton’s book, Still Just a Geek, it seems that he wasn’t very well received in that role. I have no opinion on that, since I never watched the original Star Trek, let alone the reincarnations. I don’t know why I never watched it. Bill is a huge fan. Star Trek just never appealed to me.

Wil Wheaton as Wesley Crusher.

Some time ago, someone turned me on to Wil Wheaton’s Facebook page. I started following it, and decided I kind of liked Wil. He seems like a basically normal, decent man who happens to work in the entertainment industry. He’s also a writer and award winning narrator. And, as a fellow child of 1972, I relate to a lot of what he posts on social media. We’re from the same era.

I was following Wil’s page when he started promoting his book, Still Just a Geek: An Annotated Memoir. I ended up downloading it around the time it was released last spring, but I didn’t get around to reading it until I read Jennette McCurdy’s book, I’m Glad My Mom Died. I figured Wheaton’s book would be a good follow up to McCurdy’s book about her “crazy” mother and chaotic upbringing in show business, against her will. Wil Wheaton has openly said that he went “no contact” with his parents, and had never actually wanted to be a child actor. Wheaton has maintained that it was his mother who had wanted to be an actress, and she pressured her children to go into the business. Wil happened to have talent, just as Jennette McCurdy did, and in the mid 80s, he was a household name. But what he really wanted to do was be a kid. He’s also found that writing is his true passion, just as Jennette has.

So anyway, it was Jennette McCurdy who prompted me to read Wil’s book, Still Just a Geek. Still Just a Geek is based on Wil’s first book, Just a Geek, which came out in 2004 and apparently didn’t sell well. He includes the original book in this book, along with annotations– explanations, contextual notes, and sometimes revised opinions of his that have changed since 2004. After the first book, Wheaton continues with chapters about his life today. A lot has changed since 2004, which it’s bound to do. In 2004, he was a young man, married to his wife Anne, and stepfather to her young sons from another relationship. In 2022, he’s still married to Anne, and has legally adopted Anne’s now adult sons, Nolan and Ryan. They changed their last names and everything. Wil has also stopped drinking alcohol– circa 2016– so some of what he wrote in 2004 doesn’t apply to his lifestyle today.

To be honest, I’m left with some mixed feelings about this book. I thought it was mostly very well written. I appreciated how candid Wheaton is, although there were times when I wish he’d shared more of the original stories that prompted some of his conclusions. For example, in the original book, it’s clear that Wil sees himself as his sons’ stepfather. He refers to himself in that way, although he also mentions that their bio father was a real jerk. He vaguely mentions that their bio father kept taking Anne to court for custody, and implies that he’s a shithead for doing that. Now… I don’t know much at all about Anne, other than seeing her in some photos with Wil, and reading his gushing comments about her. And, God knows, I totally understand about being the second spouse of someone who has a narcissistic or abusive former spouse.

Because I’m a second wife, I am not so quick to automatically accept what people say or write about their exes (and just to be clear, I get that not everyone believes me when I rail about Ex in my blog). In my case, I wasn’t allowed to be a stepmother to my husband’s daughters, and he wasn’t allowed to be his kids’ “everyday dad”. And he was painted as a horrible, abusive monster to his daughters, which just plain isn’t true at all. Wil never explains much about Anne’s ex, other than to write that he’s a bad person. And, for all I know, he really is a shitty person, and Nolan and Ryan were totally right to ask Wil to be their legal dad.

On the other hand, Wil is himself estranged from his own father, claiming that his dad has always been abusive and negligent toward him. He doesn’t write a lot about that, either, at least not in this book. However, Wil did write a few passages that indicated to me that his father wasn’t all bad. Like, for instance, he wrote about his father’s touching reaction to Wil’s grandfather’s death, and how Wil realized that one day, he would be mourning his own father’s passing. That was in 2004, though, before he had ceased contact with his dad. So, I guess I just wish he’d provided more context to both of those stories, and the one involving his stepsons who are now his sons. Maybe it’s not my business– but if it’s not my business, it probably shouldn’t have been included in this book. I can, by the way, also relate to Wil’s having a rocky relationship with his dad. I had a rocky relationship with my dad, too, although we were never really estranged. I understand that going “no contact” is sometimes necessary for one’s sanity, but I also think it’s something that should be done as a last resort.

The footnotes were a bit distracting for me, although reading on Kindle gives readers the choice to read them or not. I enjoyed Wil’s notes, especially when they were funny or provided context. Sometimes, though, I found some of Wheaton’s comments a little annoying and self- indulgent. It stands to reason that people try to present themselves in the best possible light, even when they admit to not being their best. Wheaton provides quite a few examples of when he sometimes acted like a jerk, as we all do sometimes. However, there were a few times when I wanted him to just state, “I was a jerk,” and not make any excuses for being a jerk. He apologizes a lot for acting the way most of us did in less enlightened times. It gets tiresome after awhile, and doesn’t always ring as sincere. Sometimes, it felt like he was trying too hard to be sensitive and “woke”, and it came across as a little fake to me. I sense this on his Facebook page, too, especially when he posts about certain issues– like the pandemic, and how we should all be handling it. Some of his comments come across to me as more like what he believes he “should” be thinking instead of what he actually thinks, if that makes sense.

But that early career helped launch his current career… if he hadn’t been a child star, where would he be today?

I did enjoy reading about Wheaton’s experiences making Stand By Me, which I still think is a fabulous film. I couldn’t relate to his comments about Wesley Crusher, although I do know who William Shatner is. Reading about his encounter with Shatner made me cringe a bit for Wheaton… Shatner was allegedly quite the asshole to Wil. Reading about his encounter with Shatner made me glad I was never a Star Trek fan. I also liked reading about Wil’s experiences being a computer geek in the 80s. I wasn’t a computer geek then, but I did have a friend who was one. And some of what he writes about his experiences with BASIC and other computer languages remind me of the time when I still counted my former friend as my best friend. Those were fun times, before reality set in, and I realized she wasn’t actually a good friend, after all.

At the end of the book, Wheaton includes some interviews and speeches he’s given, along with a couple of “Ask Me Anything” posts he did. To be honest, I kind of skimmed through most of that stuff, because speeches are meant to be heard, and aren’t that much fun to read. I did notice that the fresh content of this book comprises only about thirty percent of the book. The rest of it is old stuff cobbled together into this volume. That was okay for me, since I never read the first book, and I’ve not followed his career closely. Super fans who pay a lot of attention to what Wil’s been doing his whole life might be disappointed by Still Just a Geek. I see some Amazon reviewers have given Wil low ratings and claimed he’s not a good writer. I disagree with that. I think Wil’s writing is fine. I just wish he’d written something fresh, and included fewer footnotes, which can be very distracting. And I wish he’d just write his story and explain why he has so much animosity toward his parents and his wife’s ex. I get that they’re personal stories, and maybe he’s already explained elsewhere. But in Still Just a Geek, he makes many references to those people without really explaining his feelings behind the negative comments. I was left a little confused and wanting more information.

And finally, I admire Wil for reinventing his career, doing what he wants to do, making healthy choices, and loving his wife and sons so much. I’d give this book 3.5 stars out of 5 and would recommend it to those who haven’t read Still a Geek and are interested in Wil Wheaton’s story. I think it will particularly appeal to those who care about Star Trek, which I don’t. But I was sincerely interested in the parts about Stand By Me, and enjoyed reading those sections.

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book reviews, celebrities, LDS

But wait– there’s more! My review of Jennette McCurdy’s I’m Glad My Mom Died…

Yesterday, I wrote my first post about Jennette McCurdy, a former Nickelodeon star who just wrote a book called I’m Glad My Mom Died. I bought that book on August 9th, and started reading it a few days ago. I just finished it a few minutes ago. Before August 9th, I didn’t know the first thing about Jennette McCurdy. Now, I feel like I know her. We have some things in common. Actually, if I’m honest, I think she has things in common with my husband and his younger daughter.

A couple of hours after I shared my first post about Jennette McCurdy on Facebook, an old friend commented that she looked forward to my review. She wrote that she had to read the book. Now that I’ve finished it, I agree with her. She should read it. I think she will relate to Jennette McCurdy’s story, too. I think a LOT of people will, in spite of the shocking title that some will feel is in poor taste. Some people think that anyone who gives birth is automatically some kind of angel. And some are just as quick to judge someone who has given birth. Our society tends to look at mothers as people who are always either way above reproach, or people who can be condemned to the depths of hell for making the simplest mistakes. A lot of us forget that moms are people, too. In fact, they are just people, first and foremost.

Jennette McCurdy grew up thinking that her mother was amazing in all ways. Debra McCurdy had a vision for her only daughter’s life. From the age of six, Jennette was expected to share in the dream, as her mom made her audition for commercials, take acting and dance classes, and be cute and charming for casting directors. Debra McCurdy had breast cancer; it was diagnosed with Jennette was two years old. Debra was not above using cancer to get sympathy and preferential treatment, either for herself, or her daughter. Jennette loved her mother, and she hated to disappoint the people she loved. She was a natural people pleaser, trained since early childhood to make other people happy, regardless of her own needs or desires. Later, when she became an adult, she became co-dependent, settling on bad relationships with toxic people instead of holding out for people who were better, and weren’t abusive to her.

So Jennette went along with her mother’s vision for her life. She smiled for casting directors, and put up with her mother’s intrusive and weird behaviors. She didn’t complain when her mother hoarded things, and forced her and her three brothers to sleep on mats. She wasn’t confrontational when her mother used the money she earned to pay her mortgage. And even though she didn’t like being an actress, she didn’t want to upset her sick mom. She she acted and became successful, portraying Sam Puckett on iCarly and Sam and Cat. It almost destroyed her. Life in show business is toxic. Add in a toxic mother, and you have a recipe for lifelong issues. People don’t realize it, but fame and money aren’t tickets to happiness. Some of the most miserable people are wealthy, famous people.

In yesterday’s post, I mentioned a few of the more shocking things that happened when Jennette was growing up. Here’s a quick and dirty list.

  • At age six, Debra McCurdy forced her daughter to audition for agents. She had a knack for acting, but she hated it. Her mom made her act, anyway.
  • At age eleven, Jennette started growing breasts. Breasts weren’t good, because they made her look mature. Looking young was good for Jennette’s career, especially on Nickelodeon. So Debra taught her eleven year old daughter how to restrict calories. She noticed when Jennette gained weight and chastised her. She wouldn’t let her eat pineapple, because it was high in sugar.
  • As a young teenager, Jennette still sat in a booster seat in her mother’s car.
  • As a teenager, Jennette’s mother showered her, using her prior experience as a beautician as an excuse– to make sure her hair was pretty for the casting directors. Sometimes, one of her brothers would be forced to join her in the shower.
  • Jennette’s mother discouraged her from being a writer, because she said writers dress frumpy and get fat. She didn’t want Jennette’s “peach butt” to turn into a “watermelon butt”.
  • Jennette’s mother criticized Jennette’s father, Mark, for not working hard enough and being lazy. And she said it was hard for her to have to rely on a child to pay the bills.
  • Jennette’s mother sent her endless abusive text messages, emails, and voicemails calling her filthy names and accusing her of “giving her cancer”. Then, she signed off with “love”, and demanded money for a new refrigerator.
  • Jennette’s mother didn’t have an appreciation for her daughter’s likes and dislikes. She bought her inappropriate gifts and expected her to be delighted with them.
  • Jennette’s mother never told her who her “real” father was, or that the man she thought was her father, wasn’t actually her dad. She never told her that her biological dad had wanted to be in her life.
  • Jennette’s mother was a NARCISSIST.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know I write a lot about narcissists. I strongly suspect my husband’s first wife is a narcissist. I’ve written many– some would say– inappropriate blog posts about my husband’s ex wife. I probably shouldn’t do that. It might put me at risk. But, I figure that there’s not much more she can do to us, since she deprived Bill of a relationship with his daughters for many years, and she tried hard to ruin his relationships with his family of origin. If I hadn’t immediately recognized her as the abuser she is, she probably would have tried to ruin our marriage. This is another thing that Jennette has in common with Bill and his daughters. You see, Jennette’s dad– Mark– was not actually her father. Debra McCurdy had an affair with a trombonist and he was the biological father of three of her four children. She never told her daughter. And, just as Ex did her best to sever the relationships her first two husbands had with Ex’s three eldest children, Debra McCurdy did the same to Jennette’s bio dad.

Jennette McCurdy doesn’t mention the word “narcissist” until the very end of the book. I was glad to see she recognizes that extreme behavior for what it is. But, as I read the book, even recognizing that she was a celebrity, I could relate so much. Not because I was raised by narcissists, but because I’ve been the second wife of a man whose ex wife is almost assuredly one. The behavior is VERY familiar. It’s also not hard to see where Debra McCurdy’s behavior came from, as Jennette writes about her equally narcissistic grandmother, whose levels of entitlement are off the charts.

A different interview than the one I shared yesterday about Jennette McCurdy and her explosive new book.

It may seem I’ve given a lot away in this post. Actually, the meat of the story really comes after Debra dies, in 2013. As I sit here, reflecting on that year, I realize that 2013 was some time ago. It doesn’t seem like it was nine years ago. I guess that’s what happens when you turn 50. Nine years doesn’t seem like it was so long ago. Jennette is now only 30. She lost her mom when she was just launching into true adulthood. Debra’s death came after many false alarms– “dress rehearsals”– as Jennette puts it. When her mother died, she was devastated. She still believed the fake version of her life story. It wasn’t until later that she got the truth, and that’s when Jennette’s life was endangered. She turned to bulimia, alcoholism, binge eating, and anorexia. She had lots of bad sex with inappropriate partners, and engaged in codependent behaviors. She abandoned Mormonism, for the most part. I wouldn’t necessarily think that was such a bad thing, except it was the one place where she got comfort as a child and had a few somewhat healthy role models (and knowing what I know about Mormonism, that is, in itself, a sad statement).

I think the part where I was the most stunned and gleaned the most insight was when Jennette’s very first therapist– an earth mother therapist/life coach named Laura– delivered a truth bomb that Jennette simply could not handle at the time. Laura was the first person to point out to Jennette that the idealized version of her mother– a fantasy version that did not exist– was fake. And that all of the things Jennette believed her mother did to “help” her, were in fact, toxic, abusive, and exploitive. Laura was right, of course, but even though she delivered the truth very gently, Jennette still couldn’t take it. It wasn’t until later that she was ready for therapy, this time with a male eating disorder specialist named Jeff. I think I would have liked Jeff more than Laura. Women who act like nurturing “earth mothers” usually annoy me. I seem to relate better to men… as long as they don’t try to control me.

I read a large portion of this book aloud to Bill. It spawned a very interesting and insightful conversation. I think his daughter should read I’m Glad My Mom Died, but I know she’s very busy with Mormonism and her young family. I also fear that reading this book could be triggering for her, because I suspect she will identify with a lot of it. I, for one, found this book very enlightening. I don’t share all of Jennette’s issues, but I relate to much of what she writes about eating disorders and alcoholism. And again… I’ve been married to a man whose Ex is a lot like Debra McCurdy on MANY levels. Ex wasn’t my spouse or my mom, but she’s affected my life, just the same. And it’s all so familiar. As I read this story to Bill, he agreed that it was all so very familiar.

One thing I liked about this book is that Jennette’s chapters are short, well-edited, and easy to digest. I think the short chapters are good, because she drops a lot of “bombshells” that could be shocking for many readers. Her writing is sometimes brutally honest. She uses profanity, and there are some very frank descriptions of sexual encounters, bulimia episodes, and alcoholic escapades. I would caution anyone who has suffered from eating disorders to be cautious about reading this book, because some of Jennette’s stories might be triggering.

My heart kind of broke for Jennette, as she wrote about giving her very first blow job as a consolation to a much older boyfriend, because she wasn’t ready for sex. It broke again as she wrote about her actual first experience with intercourse, with someone who didn’t deserve the honor. And then the guy with whom she had much chemistry turned out to be not so good, either. All I could do was think about how useful it would have been for Jennette to have had a good, stable, loving role model in her mother… or, at least someone who saw her as more than a wallet and status symbol. I’m sure that when the truth hit Jennette, she realized that she wasted a lot of time, money, and affection on someone else who didn’t deserve it… and how heartbreaking it is that the person who probably deserved her love the least, was the person who was responsible for her very existence.

Most of the Amazon reviewers have given I’m Glad My Mom Died good ratings. I’m glad to see that. I think we live in a time now when more people are seeing mothers as fallible, and we’re learning that they can be held accountable. However, I have a feeling there will people who will dislike this book only for the title. They will see it as disrespectful, mean, and shocking. It’s kind of “in your face”, not unlike the Reddit “Am I the Asshole” columns. I would urge anyone reading this book to forget that Debra McCurdy was Jennette’s mom and “deserves” respect and love simply for being her mom. Debra McCurdy was an abusive liar, grifter, and leech. And while she no doubt had mental health issues to go with her cancer, that’s no excuse for stealing her daughter’s childhood and encouraging her to be unhealthy and unhappy. Mothers, ideally, should always put their children ahead of themselves– at least as long as their children are actually children. Debra failed in her mission, and it’s a blessing that her daughter has recognized that she’s worthy of better while she’s still young and can recover her health.

I give I’m Glad My Mom Died a full five stars and a hearty recommendation. But please be advised… this story isn’t for the faint of heart. It can be triggering. It can be offensive. You will probably find yourself gasping in shock, surprise, and dismay a few times. And you will probably laugh a few times, too.

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