Coming Clean: A Memoir

16218778Coming Clean: A Memoir
Kimberly Rae Miller
© 2013

Anyone who has dropped by my house unannounced knows that I am clean.  Like really, really, ridiculously clean.  I’ve been called anal before.  And people joke that I have some OCD tendencies.  I’m fine with all of that.  I am, without question, a neat-freak.

It is likely because I’m so clean that I have a weird fascination with hoarding.  When Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things came out a couple of years ago, I read it immediately (Rating: 2/5).

I also used to watch A & E’s Hoarders religiously.  I would stare at the screen, eyes wide and mouth agape.  But I had to stop during the third season.  What had once been a little confusing and fascinating turned wildly disturbing.

Perhaps you remember Robin and her father Festus?

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Robin and her dad lived together in the grossest, dirtiest hoard I had ever seen.  Their plumbing had stopped working years earlier.  So, for the past decade, they simply pooped in plastic bags.  But they didn’t throw the bags in the garbage.  No, no, no.  They tied up the bags and threw them on their stairs.  Inside their home.

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Yes, that is a picture of their poop.  In bags.  On their stairs.  There are no words.

I was scarred.

The very next episode that aired featured Vula:

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Amidst all of Vula’s clutter, the cleaning specialists found seventeen dead cats.  The cats, all rigor mortis and matted fur, were buried among the papers and garbage and junk.  Vula had no idea they were there.

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And that was that.  I was done with Hoarders.

But my fascination with hoarding reared its ugly head again last month.  I was looking at Amazon’s Best Books of July. Coming Clean, a memoir by a woman whose parents are hoarders, made the list.  And I couldn’t help myself.  I had to download it.

Coming Clean is what you would expect: it’s a memoir for a Hoarder’s audience.  The book is a sensationalist look at a serious problem.  Like Hoarders, it zeroes in on the grossest stuff and feeds it to you in sickening detail:

  • “The only things that lived [in the master bedroom] were a bed frame, a broken mirror, some newspapers from before I was born, and cat feces. It was the cleanest room in our house.”
  • “Soggy junk filled our living space. When I was fourteen, the boiler broke in the middle of winter, but we could never allow a repairman into our mess, and so we lived without heat, without showers. Instead we joined a local gym (I lied and said I was sixteen), and each Sunday we would go through the motions of a workout so that we would feel justified in using the locker room for our weekly shower.”
  • “Later— I don’t remember precisely when— the pipes in our house started to decay, causing flooding throughout the house. We shut the water off at regular intervals, turning it on to flush the toilet a few times a day, knowing that each time we allowed the water to flow, moisture would escape and drip through the downstairs ceiling that had started to rot.”
  • “One room was dubbed the Bird Room because it was filled with birds: cockatiels, parakeets, and English budgies, all housed with another of their kind in arranged marriages, with the hope that nature would prevail and tiny featherless offspring would be produced. [. . .] The brown carpets of the Bird Room were covered in bird seed, discarded feathers, and puffs of down that had come loose when the birds squawked and jumped around to protest the intrusion of their living space by the pesky humans who lived downstairs.”
  • “Fleas were as much a part of our summers as swimming and ice cream. The dogs would bring them in from the backyard, but we couldn’t set off a bug bomb and get rid of them like our neighbors did— there were too many places amid the trash for them to hide. We spent the summers being eaten alive by them.”
  • “The downstairs had become a relative swamp ground. It never seemed to dry out from the flooding, so when we did walk through it, the inches of trash would squish beneath our feet, creating an unsteady terrain.”

The Hoarders comparison here is significant.  The reason I stopped watching Hoarders is one of the reasons I didn’t particularly like this book.  It’s exploitative.  The author provides a pile of excuses for unhealthy behavior that is enabled and left untreated.

Her dad’s parents were alcoholics.  Her mom’s parents were also hoarders.  Her mom grew up with a severe case of scoliosis, but her parents refused to get her a brace.  Instead they told her that, due to her deformity, no one would ever love her.  Her mom had two botched surgeries, both of which left her immobile and depressed. Her dad had a workplace accident, suffered a concussion, and was never the same mentally.  He did a stint at a mental hospital.

Yes, the author’s parents had rough lives.  And maybe there are reasons they became hoarders.  But what are the reasons she never encouraged them to seek help, despite understanding some of the underlying causes and acknowledging the seriousness of the problem?  She chooses instead to enable their hoarding behavior and then write a book about it, so she can make some money off of their problem?  That’s cool.

That’s my first beef.  My second beef with the book is a beef that I have with memoirs generally: they’re often really poorly written.  And this memoir takes the cake.

You may have noticed that I don’t have a problem with things like sentence fragments, as long as they are stylistic and purposeful.  But I can’t get behind (or over) blatant grammatical errors.  There were so many in this book that I started highlighting them on my Kindle as I read.  Here are some of the glaringly, jarringly awful ones (with my remarks in red):

  • “I promised Susan that I would find her someplace nice to live, and fell asleep each night singing her the lullabies my mother had sang to me.“ (Sing, sang, sung, people.  Just like drink, drank, drunk and swim, swam, swum.  It’s like fingernails on a chalkboard.)
  • “I had thought I was one of those people who would marry their first love.” (Her, Kim. HER.)
  • “I looked around at the overwhelming task we all had in front of us. Anna and I have been cleaning for two days, and the apartment still looks like hoarder central.”  (Are we in the past or present, Kim?  You have to choose one.)
  • “Their best was slightly less best than some other people’s . . . “ (Is this supposed to be cute?   It’s not.  It’s gross.)
  • “Hence me being nervous about you reading it.”  (Own that gerund, Kim.)
  • “Roy had already offered to discuss with my parents how important it was that I focused on work— I had a gargantuan project to finish— and not spend my weekends doing horde management.”  (Are you wrangling crowds in your spare time?  Hoard and horde are two different things.  When you’re writing a book about hoard, you’d think you could get this write.  Errr . . . right.)

Shockingly, this is an incomplete list.  There were many more.  Did she not have an editor?  Sheesh!

Rating: 1.5/5 😷

When all a book has to offer are some crazy hoarding descriptions, that’s just not good enough for me.  Coming Clean is too sensationalistic and contains too many grammatical errors to be worth reading.  Bottom line: this book isn’t much better than the garbage in which the author grew up.

Who should read it: people who still enjoy watching Hoarders for the ick factor.

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5 thoughts on “Coming Clean: A Memoir

  1. Pingback: I Know What You Should Read | Where the Peacocks Sing

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  4. I listened to the audiobook and did notice a few of what I would interpret as grammatical errors. However, overall the book is incredibly touching to me as a person and a fellow child of a hoarder. In whole, really, a more eloquent book on the subject could not have been written, a few slight grammatical quirks notwithstanding. She wrote an amazing book, and you have have a crappy blog hating on people who write amazing books.

    • I can see how this book would be more emotionally evocative if you could relate directly to the author’s plight. But that’s the beauty of books (and art, generally), isn’t it? They touch different people in different ways. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Sorry you don’t enjoy the blog!

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