Saturday, December 29, 2012

Death Grip: A Climber's Escape from Benzo Madness by Matt Samet

Rating 3/5

This is perhaps a four-star book if it were cleaned up a little. Samet is a surprisingly good writer, and his story is an interesting one, but this book is in need of a good proof-reader. There were quite a few simple mistakes, especially near the end. I don't read a lot of ARCs, so I don't know if that's standard and forgivable. In addition, Samet refers to the past and future in strange places in the narrative, which doesn't always have to be confusing, but in this case, it is.

There are a lot of climbing stories in this book, and therefore a lot of climbing "lingo", which I wasn't familiar with, and were poorly or not at all defined. A glossary would've been helpful, but I also found most of the details of the climbs uninteresting. Sometimes it felt like Samet was "place-name dropping" and boasting, as he kept listing all these climbs (and their difficulties, of course) even if they didn't really add to his story. I suppose other climbers might find this impressive or interesting, but the general public might not.

Samet is obviously a big fan of nature, and his descriptions of it were long and florid, maybe over-described, depending on your taste. Personally I found myself skimming these sections.

Despite all this, I mostly enjoyed this memoir, and I could relate to the author's roller-coaster ride of ever-changing psychiatric prescriptions, as well as his feelings that the medicines cause more problems than they fix. While I was never addicted to "benzos", I've had similar experiences with psychiatrists and psych wards. Samet has a bit of a superior attitude when it comes to his fellow patients, and I think he takes himself too seriously - there is no hint of a sense of humour about himself in his writing. Maybe he just didn't add it in because he didn't want to take away from the gravity of the subject matter, or maybe he just has an inability to laugh at himself. I did admire that he came to fully accept the "darkness" in himself as not something that need changing. Ultimately Samet's story serves as a warning about the psychiatric circus that so many people find themselves hopelessly trapped in. He does paint psychiatrists with a wide brush as sinister beings whose only goal is to keep people on meds and therefore as eternal customers. Surely some are like this, but I think most have good intentions and are just haplessly boxed in by their training. Either way, the message is clear: psychiatric consumer beware.

I didn't learn much about psychiatry from this book that I didn't already know, but other people might. What I did learn was how competitive the sport of climbing could be. If you like memoirs, this is decent fare, with above average writing.

Note: I received a free advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher through the goodreads first reads program. (This has no influence over my rating or review.)

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