With more than one in 10 Americans - and more than one in five families - affected, the phenomenon of migraine is widely prevalent and often ignored or misdiagnosed. By his mid-40s, Andrew Levy's migraines were occasional reminders of a persistent illness that he'd wrestled with half his life, though he had not fully contemplated their physical and psychological influence on the individual, family, and society at large.
Then, in 2006, Levy was struck almost daily by a series of debilitating migraines that kept him essentially bedridden for months, imprisoned by pain and nausea that retreated only briefly in gentler afternoon light.
When possible, Levy kept careful track of what triggered an onset - the "thin, taut" pain from drinking a bourbon, the stabbing pulse brought on by a few too many M&M's - and in luminous prose, he recounts his struggle to live with migraines, his meticulous attempts at calibrating his lifestyle to combat and avoid them, and most tellingly, the personal relationship a migraineur develops - an almost Stockholm syndrome-like attachment - with the indescribable pain, delirium, and hallucinations.
Levy read about personalities and artists throughout history with migraine - Alexander Pope, Nietzsche, Freud, Virginia Woolf, even Elvis - and researched the treatments and medical advice available for migraine sufferers. He candidly describes his rehabilitation with the aid of prescription drugs and his eventual reemergence into the world, back to work and writing.
An enthralling blend of memoir and provocative analysis, A Brain Wider Than the Sky offers rich insights into an illness whose effects are too often discounted and whose sufferers are too often overlooked.
Director of the Writer's Studio at Butler University, Andrew Levy has built himself a reputation as a man of many literary talents. Acclaimed for his fiction, his writing about fiction, and his nonfiction in both biographical and essay genres, Levy merges these many kinds of writing in his latest endeavor. The resulting hybrid is a thing of astounding beauty given its due with the considerable talents of Tom Zingarelli, recently Managing Director of Fairfield University's Quick Center for the Arts, who has begun the transition to full-time acting and voice work.
The migraine headache is a shifty thing. It is a chronic event impacting the lives of so many individuals and their families in a diverse and unpredictable manner, which requires a unique sort of writing to adequately capture it. Zingarelli capably weaves in and out of the wide range of possibilities that Levy's work explores. Sometimes the author is doing a circuitous and broken type of poetry, attempting to recapture the foggy and painful sensibilities of being within the moment of a migraine. Sometimes the author is doing straightforward memoir, capturing the ways in which migraines have altered his attitude, relationships, and work life. Sometimes the author is cataloging obscure and interesting facts about developments in the medical history of migraines, from new wave pharmaceuticals to Sigmund Freud's speculative psychological theories. Sometimes the author is analyzing how the fragmentary culture of migraines pops up in iconic artistry, from Edvard Munch's famous painting "The Scream" to Emily Dickinson's imagery, from which poet of course Levy's borrows his title.
The prose absolutely sparkles with playful and mysterious threads that produce a surprising coherence of ideas, deeply philosophical yet entirely understandable, while Zingarelli's delivery attaches a tone of energetic compassion to a flow of fruitful inquiry. The writing and the narration each burst with such an insightfulness that the resulting book is undoubtedly a touchstone not only for people whose lives have been influenced by migraine headaches, but actually also for a broader general audience interested in what it means for humanity to grapple with a debilitating disease. Megan Volpert
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Wonderful. For migraineurs and those around them.
- Joan M.