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I had just about decided I wouldn’t be doing anymore sick lit reviews when I saw a request for the review of Kathryn Trueblood’s new novel, Take Daily As Needed: A Novel in Stories. I decided to keep an open mind and look to see what was already being said about the book and its author. I’ve been in a reading slump and I was hoping it would be something that would help reawaken my literary curiosity. I immediately had a good feeling about it. The description sounded different from anything I’d read before in the genre. Her previous work was also well received and sounded intriguing. When I read Trueblood’s a recipient of the Goldenberg Prize in Fiction and the Red Hen Press Short Story Award, I was confident her work would be a pleasure to read. I knew I had to read this novel.
I’m very choosy about the books I review. Not only is it very important to me that I represent any product accurately if I want people to keep accepting my recommendations, my reputation as a writer is on the line. I won’t just rubber stamp some half baked attempt at writing or storytelling, no matter how well-meaning the author’s intentions. Just like the products I review, I expect the books I review to be a bit more clever than average. I expect what I read to tell me something new about the world in a somewhat unique and entertaining way.
Books don’t have to provide a huge epiphany, but I want to experience something I never have before, add to my knowledge of what it means to be alive. But like every other reader, it has to ring true. If I can’t connect with a book and its author, see its shape and form reflected within my world in one way or another, it certainly won’t make a lasting impression. I may as well have waited for the movie or passed it up rather than wasted so many hours reading the book.
This is where most sick lit lies for me, in the “why did I waste all these hours reading this self-congratulatory bit of clap-trap?” Don’t get me wrong. I love to see myself and my circumstances reflected in literature. That’s actually my point. I can’t see myself in these stories of triumph where money is plentiful, doctors are miracle-workers and the main character always seems to miraculously come out cured, wins the man and takes home the gold from the olympics. Half the time, I come away from these books feeling like I’m somehow inadequate, or I’m just not doing sick “right.” Not so with ‘Take Daily As Needed.’
‘Take Daily As Needed’ is the perfect example of how some of the best art often reflects life. There’s a realness to this novel told in short stories that makes you question whether it’s fiction or memoir. It feels like the characters are as real as your neighbors and at times can make you just as uncomfortable. It wasn’t that I connected deeply with Maeve, the main character and narrator of the book. There were many things different about her approach to life, her relationships and what she was willing to put up with that I gave up years ago.
Yet, I could see parts of myself reflected in her life and experiences. She is every woman and yet she is something all her own. Her sarcastic kids are your sarcastic kids. Her post 1950’s me decade parents are your parents. Her struggles to care for herself and her own chronic illness in a world that demands she take care of everyone else isn’t just her story, it’s every woman’s story.
We like to talk a good game about how far women have come. We celebrate having the right to vote, to work , to determine our own destinies. Yet, our place as caretakers of the world remains immutable, whether we have careers or chronic illness or both. We’re simply supposed to make more room on our plate and eat the accompanying vitriol with a smile on our face. This is the universal truth of womanhood and a central theme in ‘Take Daily As Needed.’ In many ways, it is a story of exactly how far women will go to sacrifice themselves to keep their place in the order of things as peacemakers and caregivers.
The ironies in Maeve’s life are clear. It is within these juxtapositions that these existential truths are revealed. Chock-full of some of life’s most meaningful and uncomfortable experiences which come to mark the beginnings and endings of periods in our lives, there’s something in this book everyone can relate with. In Maeve, every woman will recognize a universal truth that simply can’t be denied, a truth that greatly complicates the life of every woman, whether chronically ill or not.
How does Maeve navigate this catch-22? You’ll have to read the book to find out, but be assured, the real life adventures on which you accompany the main character are not events you’ll soon forget. You won’t be bored by tales of laundry mishaps or grossed out by the details of shitting one’s self, though the narrator clearly lives with plenty of both—she does have Crohn’s disease, after all. But it’s not the illness itself Trueblood is examining here so much as the wider condition of womanhood and the roles and responsibilities it entails. What you get are gripping narratives of tribulations mixed with a little triumph, the mundane laced with healthy doses of true life surrealism.
The writing is as refreshing as it is an honest depiction of life. It’s largely absent $5 words, awkward metaphors that draw attention to themselves or heavy-handed literary devices while still offering beautiful language and clever turns of phrase. It also offers some exceptional dialogue that feels completely natural. I think this makes it an enjoyable and interesting book for a variety of tastes and a book for readers and writers alike.
The title isn’t just a catchy way to highlight the narrator’s illness; it’s a metaphor for the inequality women swallow daily, as we care for our children, ailing and elderly relations and still try to carve out enough space to include a life of our own in the form of a career. In the bite-sized pieces of standalone stories, you get the best of both worlds. It’s a book you can put down at the end of every chapter feeling satisfied by the conclusions it draws. It’s the characters and compelling story lines that will have you coming back time and again for the next. ‘Take Daily As Needed’ is an authentic novel for which every woman will see some of her own truth reflected within its pages.
You can get ‘Take Daily As Needed’ at your preferred book retailer or through this link at Amazon:
- Print Length: 186 pages
- Publisher: University of New Mexico Press
- Publication Date: July 11, 2019
- ISBN: 978-0-8263-6096-0
- Formats: paperback, ebook