Review

Body Toxic: An Environmental Memoir

by Susanne Antonetta

Read an Excerpt



The poisons come from within and they come from without. Susanne
Antonetta's BODY TOXIC: An Environmental Memoir is a disturbing and
haltingly readable book about some true-life horrors that most of
us would prefer not to think about on a regular basis. Growing up
in a polluted New Jersey beach town, Antonetta has suffered the
emotional as well as physical ramifications of poor waste
management and weak federal regulation against such things.

The book has a strange shape to it. Antonetta, with her poet's
sensibility, bounces around between her grandparents' immigrant
tales to her self-medication and drug problems as a wild teen in
the '70s to her attempts to overcome the infertility in her later
life that most likely is a result of the summer days she spent
swimming in a Jersey Shore town that was situated next to a
Ciba-Geigy plant. The Oyster Creek Nuclear Power Plant released
more radiation into its neighboring section of New Jersey than
Three Mile Island did upon its breakdown. The larger pattern of
health problems stemming from this situation affected Antonetta's
family in many ways --- the hazardous waste that made its way into
their drinking, bathing and recreational swimming waters makes the
laundry list of medical ailments they fell victim to too long even
to abridge here. Sometimes it is difficult to catch the flow of
stories from one to another as they might fit into the bigger
picture, but the bigger picture is really just about the tragedy
that comes from without when the environment on which you depend
for your survival is wrecked by those who don't care about
consequences.

You don't have to live in New Jersey yourself (although I do, and
so the book made me more than appropriately wary about my family's
health and safety in the Garden State) to wonder how your friends
and relatives may have been affected by similar goings-on wherever
they live. Antonetta sounds her siren by holding up the multiple
tragedies and problems of her own life as examples of how the lack
of environmental safety has affected her existence. She is still
alive and that, perhaps, is the miracle of this memoir: it is hard
to believe that, with all she did to herself and all that was done
to her and her family without their knowledge, she has managed to
survive, with a healthy combination of irony, fact-finding, and a
mere nip of humor. It's not a funny book, BODY TOXIC, but there are
moments where the elemental unforgiving of the horrors almost makes
you laugh for joy that Antonetta's book is not your own
story.

This is a strange and disconcerting book, as much for its theme as
for its presentation. The style of the book, the jumping back and
forth, will make readers feel as if they are in the presence of a
friend who is in the manic stage of manic depression and has the
energy to keep talking, even if the stories don't jive together.
This makes BODY TOXIC hard to take at first, but eventually you
settle into Antonetta's hopping --- by the end of the book, it all
adds up into one tragic horror that you won't soon forget. If you
think our environmental problems in this country are getting
better, read this.

Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on January 21, 2011

Body Toxic: An Environmental Memoir
by Susanne Antonetta

  • Publication Date: November 30, -0001
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Counterpoint Press
  • ISBN-10: 1582431167
  • ISBN-13: 9781582431161