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Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

Wasted, by Marya Hornbacher.  Harper Perennial (1998), 320 pages.

“It was that simple: One minute I was your average nine-year-old, shorts and a T-shirt and long brown braids, sitting in the yellow kitchen, watching Brady Bunch reruns, munching on a bag of Fritos, scratching the dog with my foot. The next minute I was walking, in a surreal haze I would later compare to the hum induced by speed, out of the kitchen, down the stairs, into the bathroom, shutting the door, putting the toilet seat up, pulling my braids back with one hand, sticking my first two fingers down my throat, and throwing up until I spat blood.”

This book is unquestionably very well-written and fascinating, yet I struggled with how to review it. The author is, quite simply, a rather unlikable person. I hate looking at her photo on the cover, I’m glad I don’t know her, and I don’t really wish her well. This was troubling to me because it seems one should like (or at least have empathy for) the character one is reading about, particularly if the book is a memoir. Is this a prerequisite for a recommendation? I wondered.

The writing is indisputably good. Her childhood remembrances embody the perfect child’s voice, she shows wonderful self-awareness (except for two significant lapses toward the end) and her details and general observances are authentic and even humorous despite the subject matter.

This review first appeared in February 2004
By Donna Long

  1. nightgodess says:

    I have to agree with you. Although it was well written I did not find “Wasted” to be all that enjoyable. I found her to be arrogant, judgmental, and self-righteous. Her sharp comments and highly intellectual dialect also limit her audience, and at times, break up the flow of her work.

  2. Thanks for commenting!
    Coincidentally, my review that was posted today (for Three Cups of Tea) poses exactly the same problem–I just didn’t like the author, and since he’s the main character in the book, that really affects my enjoyment of what he’s writing about, though I generally adore nonfiction about the Himalaya. That book has thousands of fans who overlook the author’s ego and self-righteousness because they so admire his charity work. But I just have trouble recommending a book in which the author-as-a-character is unlikable, regardless of good writing and/or noble causes.

  3. I agree with you Donna. The author isn’t a likable character in her own life. It’s hard to like someone who hates themselves so thoroughly and adamantly.
    I think the fact that she isn’t very likable, in fact, easy to dislike is a testament to how honestly the book was written. As much as she was an off-putting character, that didn’t really get in the way of how much I enjoyed the book.
    From a therapist’s point of view – I found this book really informative for both the professional and the lay person. For being as young as the author is, she’s an amazing writer and chose to write about a topic that she knows intimately – I think that really comes through which is admirable.

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