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“Perfectly Clear”

  • By Michelle LeClair and Robin Gaby Fisher
  • c. 2018, Berkley
  • $27, $36 Canada; 289 pages

Once, you believed in Fairy Tales.

Santa came down the chimney, the Easter Bunny hid colored eggs, and the Tooth Fairy left money for your molars. Once, you were wide-eyed and innocent, too, but those days are gone – even when, as in the new book “Perfectly Clear” by Michelle LeClair and Robin Gaby Fisher, you believe in love.

For most of her young life, Michelle LeClair was a worrier.

She had to be: her mother was somewhat of a free-spirit who married often and “was gone a lot.” For that, LeClair grew up as the Independent Responsible Child; the one who, as a teen, wanted a job so she could pay for her own car.  

And so, LeClair’s mother helped her get a job selling L. Ron Hubbard training materials for Sterling Management, an organization run by Scientologists. It didn’t take long before LeClair surprised everyone, herself included, by excelling beyond expectations.

Her success – and her mother’s influence – led the Church to invite LeClair to one-on-one member counseling, ostensibly to determine her “purpose on earth,” but also to lead her deeper inside Scientology. Church members offered her their friendship, but LeClair noticed that she was asked nearly constantly for more money. As her career rose, so did the Church’s requests for donations and soon, she was writing astoundingly-frequent five-figure checks to the organization.

And it might’ve continued so, if not for one thing ...

As a teenager, LeClair fooled around once with a female friend, which she had to confess to a fellow Scientologist, information that went into a file. Even after LeClair married and had children, her long-ago fling was flung in her face repeatedly – particularly after she tried to divorce her abusive husband. Scientology has long considered homosexuality to be repugnant, she was reminded, and that nagged at her enough to make her question this faith in which she’d been raised.

She questioned even deeper when she fell in love with a woman named Charly.

Halloween is long over. The decorations have been put away. But if you didn’t get scared enough then, “Perfectly Clear” will finish the job perfectly.

It starts with the opening pages, in which author Michelle LeClair is arrested for a crime that never happened, fabricated, she says, by Scientology members. It’s a small story compared to what else follows, but its heart-pounding presence in the front of the book takes readers by the scruff and shakes us.

That leaves a lingering feeling of alarm that continues to run in and out of the rest of this memoir as LeClair (with Robin Gaby Fisher) lets readers see what she did not. We’re privy to the manipulation she recalls but didn’t notice then, the pressure she felt but dismissed, and the dawning fear that she could never get away.

That makes for an excellent real-life love story wrapped up in a psychological thriller that’ll also make you pick your jaw off the floor about every third page. If you think “Perfectly Clear” is a book you’ll like, you’d better believe it.

“The Mystery of the Exploding Teeth and Other Curiosities from the History of Medicine”

  • By Thomas Morris
  • c. 2018, Dutton                                    
  • $26, $35 Canada; 353 pages

Grandma knows best.

For every sore throat, broken bone, and cough, she had a remedy. It might not’ve been exactly pure medical science, but she swore by it. It might’ve tasted terrible and worked only half the time, but hey! It could’ve been worse, as you’ll see in ‘The Mystery of the Exploding Teeth” by Thomas Morris.

Not long ago, in a library far, far away, Thomas Morris was doing research on heart disease and found something much more interesting: old medical journals from the days when doctors believed that leeches and laxatives were perfect cures for what ailed their patients. Morris was fascinated and he “could not stop reading.” The entries he found were horrifying but “just as intriguing.”

Here, he presents the best of the worst, starting at the bottom, literally, with items that were delicately removed from places they never should have been.  That includes cutlery which, if you’ve ever believed that eighteenth-century folks were stuffy, will make you re-think your stance.

In many cases, diseases that we’ve conquered or can easily treat today were perceived as complete unknowns, two centuries ago. Life was harder then: there was no anesthesia for any kind of surgery, kidney stones “were far more prevalent,” childbirth was a dicey thing, and being healthy depended on a balance of “humors,” which has nothing to do with laughter.

Even so, some “cures” are downright hilarious, given what we know now.

In the late 1700s, for example, the acid from a crow’s stomach was used in ointment to relieve pain. Pigeon butts were popular in nineteenth-century pediatrics. Arsenic and mercury were common medicines and were often smoked. And if you had a tapeworm, no problem: there’s a trap for that.

And yet – we survived, as a species. People lost limbs and lived. They had things driven into their skulls, and walked away. They got really, really bad advice and didn’t die.

And, sometimes, you have to wonder how…

The very first thing you’ll need to know when you find “The Mystery of the Exploding Teeth” is that it’s not a mystery in the sense that you’re used to.  No, author Thomas Morris tells, up-front, about every crushed limb, every dynamite burp and pigeon butt in wince-worthy, laughable detail.

But even though these things are humorous from today’s vantage point, Morris pokes fun in a respectful manner that isn’t mean-spirited. It’s more on the playful side, pulling old medical reports from the dust, explaining where needed, and cringing along with readers. Even better, these accounts go beyond the usual leeches-and-mercury tales; instead, most of what Morris presents hasn’t had a good exam in decades. Despite their age – and many are 200-plus years old – these articles seem fresh.

While Morris says that this book consists mostly of stories “written by doctors, for doctors,” there’s certainly no reason why it can’t be enjoyed by anyone who has interest in medicine, history, or humor. Even Grandma would agree: if boredom is what ails you, “The Mystery of the Exploding Teeth” is an excellent remedy.

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