The Bookworm: A look at the monsters within

Terri Schlichenmeyer

“Anxiety: The Missing Stage of Grief”

  • By Claire Bidwell Smith, LCPC
  • c. 2018, Lifelong Books
  • $26, $34 Canada; 272 pages

The walls feel like they’re closing in. You can’t breath, your mouth is dry, you’re dizzy, and your heart pounds. Not to make it any less scary, but it isn’t the first time you’ve had a panic attack like this; you’ve had a lot of them since the funeral last summer.

"Anxiety: The Missing Stage of Grief" by Claire Bidwell Smith, LCPC.

In the new book “Anxiety: The Missing Stage of Grief” by Claire Bidwell Smith, LCPC, you’ll see how, when the walls close in, you can open a door.

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It started at a crossroad in her life: when she was 15, both of Claire Bidwell Smith’s parents were diagnosed with cancer at the same time. She became a caretaker and felt isolated; after her mother died, she had her first panic attack and it ultimately changed everything. Once her father was gone, too, Smith decided to make grief her life’s work.

When it comes to grieving, she says, there is no “wrong,” but there are things we get wrong – especially the “Five Stages of Grief.” Those, according to author Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, were written for the dying, not for those who grieve. Grief, says Smith, makes other emotions surface – and one of those is anxiety.

"Anxiety: The Missing Stage of Grief" author Claire Bidwell Smith, LCPC.

To be anxious is to be afraid of something, “real or imagined.” It’s being hypervigilant or over-reactive, sometimes unnecessarily. While it’s true that general anxiety can be good, even helpful, what sets it apart from grief-based anxiety is that the latter stems “directly from the experience of loss.” Specifically, we’re anxious after loss because “we are not coping with [the loss] adequately.”

While you shouldn’t ever be afraid to ask for professional help, there are things you can do yourself to work through this.

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First, understand that death itself affects how you grieve: grief over sudden loss is different than grief after long-term illness. Talk to people, tell your story, or join a “grief group.” Reach inside and rely on your own resilience, journal what you’re feeling, and find a way to honor your loved one’s life. And finally, face death by preparing for your own demise. It’s “one of the best ways to overcome our anxiety … ”

“Anxiety: The Missing Stage of Grief” is great in premise but rough in reading.

The most obvious thing that readers may notice is repetition, and not in a good way: there are several instances in which phrases are reused, almost word-for-word, and that can be distracting. There are also instances of head-scratching contradiction.

And yet, certainly, there’s help inside this book – examples of other’s struggles, exercises to open minds, and questions for insight – and those are things that can’t be ignored if you’re hurting. That’s in addition to author Claire Bidwell Smith’s calming tone, which is easy to understand and sensible, as well as comforting, in a we-can-fix-this way that will resonate with readers who need that.

Overall, “Anxiety: The Missing Stage of Grief” has its rough spots but might be good to have in your arsenal if you do, too. It’s bumpy, but it may be the thing when you’re up against the wall.

“The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein”

  • By Kiersten White
  • c. 2018, Delacorte Press  
  • $18.99, $24.99 Canada; 304 pages

Your future was laid out before. It’s all set. You have plans, and a method to execute them. Each step of your journey will progress in order, just as it’s meant to be, and any bumps in the road will be dealt with accordingly. As in “The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein” by Kiersten White, it will take monstrous focus.

"The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein" by Kiersten White.

It had been much too long. Months had turned to years and though he’d promised to write and tell Elizabeth where he was, Victor rarely did so; indeed, this time, it had taken cunning and a delicate lie for her to find him in the Bavarian village of Ingolstadt. Now, she’d go to him. Surely, he must need her.

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She had no other choice.   

When she was but five years old, the Frankensteins had purchased Elizabeth from her stepmother, a cruel woman who lied and said that the fair, golden-haired Elizabeth was high-born. When brought to the Frankenstein estate, Elizabeth understood that she was Madame Frankenstein’s best hope, just as she instantly knew that she never wanted to leave, that staying was based on taming young Victor and his mercurial ways. She had to win him over, then she had to make him think he needed her. Later, she had to keep him thinking so.

Without it, Elizabeth would be unnecessary, tossed out with nothing to call her own.  

And so she spent her entire life at Victor’s side, keeping him happy. It was she who spun fanciful tales and crafted playful scenarios that kept Victor’s anger at bay. It was she who first befriended Henry Clerval; she who saved Justine, the perfect governess, for the little brothers that Victor never seemed to want around. Indeed, he needed her.

But in finding Victor in Ingolstadt , Elizabeth discovered something else, something so horrible that she destroyed his laboratory and notes so that no one else would know the truth about him or what he’d done.

Nobody would know the truth – least of all, she ...

Sometimes, you like to sit down with a nice little gothic novel.

And that’s just how “The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein” starts out: a nice little gothic novel that softly snarls as you turn the pages.

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And turn them, you will, because author Kiersten White makes you want to know exactly how Elizabeth fits into the classic tale of a mad scientist and his monster. Meanwhile, you’ll hate her; she’s vain and disdainful, the kind of character who’d sneer at you, no matter who you are. She’s also manipulative, in a modern way that’s surprising in a Victorian-set novel.

Part of you will wish she gets eaten by the inevitable monster. Part of you will think she is the monster. All of you will be chilled.

While this book may be shelved in the Young Adult section, it’s an equal delight for older readers who love the classic tale of evil science. “The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein” is the perfect creepy companion, if you’re familiar with the story before.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.