Shoot the Damn Dog
A Memoir of Depression
W.W. Norton: 326 pp., $23.95
Here's what I love about this book: the absolute physicality of the depression that gripped Sally Brampton -- literally by the throat; what Freud called globus hystericus -- for four years. She's dizzy, weak, exhausted, nauseated, choking and in pain for most of those years. Her marriage ends, her job as editor of a fashion magazine ends, she moves three times, but all these are secondary to the debilitating (and of course related) physical symptoms of her melancholia, "the black dog." Therapy is part of her cure but not the most important part. None of the endings or her dislocated childhood (her family moved every three years for her father's job) can be blamed for her depression, which is neither situational nor purely chemical. Doctors finally prescribe thyroxine, which helps with her energy level. Mental health professionals fail to listen when she insists the various drugs they prescribe are poisoning her. She gains weight and is told that antidepressants aren't the cause. She becomes dependent on sleeping pills. She twice tries to kill herself by overdosing. She drinks to dull the pain and checks into rehab for a month. Friends try to help, as does her boyfriend, but she's persistently lonely.
What keeps her going is not wanting to abandon her teenage daughter, Molly. Group therapy helps; gardening helps; meditation, yoga and daily walks help. She takes B12, omega-3 -- they help. The combination slowly brings her energy levels back up and quells her need to drink. What's appalling (though Brampton does not dwell on this) is the bumbling of the professionals whose opinions, often conflicting, she depended on. "Shoot the Damn Dog" is an excellent reminder of how often one's inner voice shouts out the key to one's survival. "Listen to me!" hers kept shouting. "You are worth taking care of! People need you!"
The Saucier's Apprentice
One Long Strange Trip Through the Great Cooking Schools of Europe
W.W. Norton: 324 pp., $24.95
A few disclaimers: Bob Spitz takes cooking classes in France and Italy, not throughout Europe, and studies with some wonderful chefs, but not the great ones. What's appealing about this book is the headlong way he goes about it, propelled by the end of a 14-year marriage and an eight-year book project. He's always loved cooking but is tired of failure. Dinners at his house with friends are fun but fraught with anxiety, because he knows just enough about cooking to know when his dishes fall short.
What he needs is technique. Not surprisingly, the chefs he lines up to work with tend to look askance. A chef in Beaune asks him where he's cooked. When he replies, "Just my own kitchen, really," the chef responds: "M'sieur, this happens to be a fine-dining establishment. The day-care center is somewhere on the other side of town."
Despite the snobbery and a seeming lack of warmth wherever he turns, Spitz persists in his dream, which takes him through kitchens in Lyon, Beaune, Maussane, Nice, Paris and Tuscany. Turns out he's better suited to the Tuscan temperament; apprenticeships there do not so closely resemble est sessions. Once home, he cooks for his daughter Lily, in the end his most important critic.
firstname.lastname@example.org Susan Salter Reynolds is a Times staff writer.