by Pamela K. Brodowsky and Evelyn M. Fazio
Da Capo, 2005
Review by Leo Uzych, J.D., M.P.H. on Mar 20th 2007
Pamela K. Brodowsky and Evelyn M. Fazio, in a book entitled Staying Sane When Your Family Comes to Visit, have culled a collection of true stories contributed by various persons, including several stories contributed by Brodowsky and Fazio themselves. The book is a member of the "Staying Sane" family of books, comprised of a collection of advice-centric books focused on finding the silver lining in difficult situations encountered in everyday life. The overarching intent, of Staying Sane When Your Family Comes to Visit, is to proffer practical advice pertinent to: how to cope, what to do, and, not least, how to stay sane when family members visit. And indeed, the diligent reader, sifting through the treasure filled sands of the book's rich terrain, will likely find many grains of insight laden gold.
The contributed stories are noteworthy for their characteristic brevity of length, and uplifting levity of style. The laugh provoking, practical advice suffusing the book's substantive contents is accompanied notably by the deeply probing instrument of real life experiences, which revealingly peels away layers of pretense and insightfully exposes some of the rough edges of human behavior. Certainly for readers covetous of practical advice forged in the fire of real life, and injected with a goodly dose of humor, the book is likely an effectual prescription for staying sane when family members come to visit.
An important assumption underlying the book is that the reader may be able to derive practical benefit from the real life travails survived successfully by others. Towards that end, the book, structurally, is comprised of eight clusters of true stories. The chapter headings, for the respective clusters, describe, in a few words, some generalized situation. And each of the eight chapters is embodied by a cluster of stories tethered thematically to one of these situations. Each of the stories presented is titled individually; and the names of the contributing storytellers are identified. No further information is provided regarding the respective contributors.
The book's structural discipline encompasses a "Sanity Quiz", presented at the beginning of each chapter. A Sanity Quiz, in a few sentences, describes a hypothetical set of facts relating to the situation capturing the attention of a particular chapter's cluster of stories. The reader is then regaled with a multiple choice question, which humorously addresses the issue embedded in the hypothetical.
Another structural feature, in the form of "Survival Hints", appears at the end of almost all of the stories. The Survival Hints pithily summarize survival related lessons to be learned from the just described story. In some respects, the Survival Hints lack uniformity. Some offer advice of a relatively more generalized nature, whereas others are hewed more specifically. Collectively, on one side of an evaluative ledger, some of the Survival Hints may be described in rather glowing terms, such as: thoughtful, practical, helpful, sensible, insightful, humorous, and sagacious. But, on the ledger's other side, particular Survival Hints may be characterized in less flattering terms, such as: unhelpful, shallow, semi serious, cynical, and crude.
The cluster of stories comprising Chapter One focus thematically on survival lessons associated with visits by family members. The visits described by the various storytellers, for one reason or another, engendered assorted problems, tensions, difficulties, frustrations, and debilitating emotions. As the stories embodying Chapter Two exemplify, frustrations, difficulties, and enfeebling concerns may arise, as well, when a visit is made to, rather than by, a family member.
Stressful situations garnering the rapt attention of other clusters of stories envelop: nettlesome sibling relationships (Chapter Three); problem ridden or otherwise memorable family gatherings at holiday times (Chapter Four); an array of issues involving food (Chapter Five); kids and pets (Chapter Six); guests who want to help "too much" (Chapter Seven); and guests who stay "too long" (Chapter Eight).
This delectably engrossing book is an admixture of variegated parts, enmeshing elements of real life difficulties entwined with funniness, insightfulness, and practicality. In the critical view of some, the textual fabric of some of the contributed stories may be eyed as being substantively flimsy to the point of being threadbare. And some may warily look askance at the book's stylistic penchant for "humor" as arguably detracting from seriousness of purpose in a debasing way.
The book's reliance on anecdotal material, and resultant lack of academic style discipline, may also be worrisome to some. Especially in the absence of a means for verifying the veracity of the anecdotal material presented, a critic may question whether the stories, as recounted, describe fully and accurately all pertinent facts. Moreover, the recounted anecdotes constitute a relatively small sample size which may, in significant ways, be unrepresentative of the vastly larger cohort of real life experiences germane to the situations studied anecdotally in the book.
The distinguishing stylistic and substantive contours shaping the book may lessen its appeal to readers bent on instructive material infused heavily with academic intenseness and rigor. But this delightful book should, on the other hand, have very broad appeal to all those interested in learning multifarious, real life lessons relating to family dynamics and tinged pleasingly with a salutary measure of humor.
© 2007 Leo Uzych
Leo Uzych (based in Wallingford, PA) earned a law degree, from Temple University; and a master of public health degree, from Columbia University. His area of special professional interest is healthcare.