Pain: The Fifth Vital Sign by Marni Jackson (Random House), 336 pages, $34.95 cloth. Rating: NNN
In pain: the fifth vital sign, Marni Jackson bravely tackles one of the most misunderstood and elusive subjects known to humankind. In so doing, she gives words to something that stubbornly defies language. This has to be one of the most difficult literary tasks imaginable.Seeking the reasons why something so universal is so poorly understood, Jackson delves into the history of pain, looking forward to future possibilities, sharing the stories of people living with pain and interviewing experts.
Viewing her subject from all angles and leaving no dusty corners, Jackson looks at self-mutilation and masochism along with every imaginable form of non-self-inflicted suffering -- from the more tangible migraines and fibromyalgia to the esoteric phantom limb pain (the most fascinating and illustrative of just how cryptic a subject this really is); good pain and bad pain; mental and physical pain -- and our relationships with all of them.
But reading Pain: The Fifth Vital Sign, I often found myself unable to empathize with these tales of suffering. It's sort of like, well, listening to people talk about their aches and pains.
Yet this merely illustrates one of the points Jackson is attempting to make, that pain lacks memory, thus eluding understanding. Perhaps, however, my own distance from and impatience with the subject of human suffering is the best example of why this is an important book.
Jackson launches her book Wednesday (June 12) at Massey College. See readings, this page.Write Books at firstname.lastname@example.org