The Empathy Exams

by Leslie Jamison, reviewed by Richard Cook

In these essays, Leslie Jamison is Frida Kahlo on the printed page. Pain is her subject; her objective is to feel her way into somber communion, a common sharing.

As a medical actor Leslie works to transcend the script: "I am not just an unmarried woman faking seizures for pocket money." In her portrayal of sundry sicknesses unto death, Leslie strives to make the medical students realize "a root system of loss stretches radial and rhizomatic under the entire territory of my life." This is not an act; this is the journey.

As a teachers/tourist in Nicaragua, Leslie is accosted by a purse snatcher in Granada, who smashes her in the face with his fist. "My nose was broken. The bones of the bridge got shifted. The flesh swelled like it was trying to hide the fracture beneath. This is how speech swells around memory. How intellect swells around hurt."

Jamison, suspicious of sentimentality, invokes David Foster Wallace: "An ironist at an AA meeting is like a witch in church." But she refuses to discard sentimentality; it can chauffeur you into the neighborhood of deeper feelings.

After an abortion, Leslie wanted to hear from the man and told him so. "I'd be lying if I wrote that I remember exactly what he said. I don't. Which is the sad half-life of arguments—we usually remember our side better."

This is a book filled with flairs Leslie Jamison sends up into a threatening sky.

—Richard Baldwin Cook, Baltimore County Maryland, writes poetry and the occasional book review and is working to end the military occupation of Palestine by the State of Israel.