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by Mike Feder
Seven Stories Press, 2001
Review by Courtney Young on Dec 22nd 2002

The Talking Cure

There comes a time when many of us say to ourselves, “I hope I don’t end up like my mother”, (or father- whatever the case may be).  Day after day we memorize their behavior, and come to know so well who we don’t want to emulate.  Years later, we are devastated to find that we have in fact become them despite all our efforts.  Perhaps this is not so bad if your mother simply has a tendency to be bossy, or a “neat freak”.  These are personality quirks we can live with.  On the other hand it can be frightening if she is an alcoholic, a manic-depressive, or a schizophrenic.

Imagine growing up in a household where your mother was unable to care for herself--let alone a family.  Where she would cry for hours at a time, or yell uncontrollably for no apparent reason, and make frequent trips to mental hospitals.  Some of us do grow up this way, including radio talk show host Mike Feder.  In his book The Talking Cure, we see in a tragically comic way the implications this had on his development as a person.  We are able to witness the gradual evolution of his own mental illness, and see how it affects his relationships, career, and even his ability to care for himself.

The book begins with the birth of Mike’s little sister; the girl that was thought to be the reason Mike’s mother Ruth went crazy.  After her birth Ruth fell into post-partum depression, and was never the same.  It’s easy to see where a child’s logic would make the sister the “evil” one for causing this.  Sadly though, Mike did think this as a child and separated himself from her; having no real brother- sister relationship.  Mike’s father left when he was three years old.  This too had a profound emotional impact on him, as it would on anyone I’m sure.  Despite infrequent visits, Mike’s father was rarely a part of his life.

Like many tortured souls one needs some form of artistic expression.  Mike’s gift was his ability to tell stories.  He was able to make people laugh at his crazy life, and many people could relate to him.  This perhaps saved him from himself, for it was his major outlet.  Feder walks us through his life making sure not to leave out any embarrassing moments (which you’ll have to read for yourself).  Although his life is for the most part tragic he is able to relay it in such a way to the audience that we laugh.  Perhaps it is easier for all of us to look back on our lives that way.

Mike grew up having a stern psychiatrist sitting in as a father figure, looking to him for advice and approval.  This first of many doctors in his life was crucial in getting Mike to leave the house of his mentally ill mother.  A step that is hard for many to take because of lingering feelings of guilt, and responsibility.

Mike went to college and almost lived a normal life.  It wasn’t until he was in his first marriage that he began to fall apart.  Ironically his first wife, Carol, was a graduate psychology student.  She had a very detailed picture of what she wanted her life to be like.  Mike was to become an English Professor like her father, and wear tweed jackets while smoking a pipe.  This didn’t seem like such a bad thing to him at the time because he thought he was in love, and would do anything to please Carol even if it meant becoming some one he was not.  He continued seeing a psychiatrist and wanted him to meet Carol.  They immediately disliked each other.  Carol soon convinced Mike that he was fine and no longer needed to see a shrink.  This would soon lead to his anxiety attacks, and the end of his marriage.  He never spoke to Carol again.  In between marriages his life was a roller coaster.  He worked ridiculous jobs, and continued battling with his own mind.  This would provide ample topics for his story telling.

During his second marriage he gets a job at his favorite radio station, and eventually gets his own show.  He talks about his crazy family, failed relationships, and noteworthy mishaps on the job.  Every one agrees he is a great storyteller and he develops a loyal following.  In addition to the radio show he would go to various venues to tell his stories in front of live audiences.  Although this was extremely therapeutic to him he was still struggling with his manic depression.  With his second wife, Susan, he fathered two children, but this marriage too began to fall apart; and took some interesting twists and turns that the reader might not expect.  He does the one thing I thought he would not do-leave his kids.  It’s hard to imagine him doing this knowing the emptiness he felt when his father left him.  Things do change for the better, but Mike hits bottom before this happens, and must check himself into a mental hospital.

Mike Feder’s life at times seemed like a struggle just to stay afloat.  We get a unique look at his life and all the variables that affect his mind.  There is obviously a lot more to his memoirs than what I have summed up here, but it is better told by Feder who can make us laugh at his misfortunes.    

This book would be beneficial to those who themselves are struggling with a mental illness, or friends and family members of some one who is sick.  I would also recommend it to those studying or practicing psychology or psychiatry.  Feder’s life takes so many surprising deviations that it was hard for me to put this book down. 

 

© 2002 Courtney F. Young

 Courtney Young recently graduated from Dowling College, Long Island, NY majoring in Fine Arts and minoring in Philosophy.  While planning her next step, she maintains her mental health by surfing.