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Lights On, Rats Out: A Memoir

Review

Lights On, Rats Out: A Memoir

Noted food writer Cree LeFavour has written a brave and honest memoir. Those familiar with her cookbooks will find her topic here quite different from her usual fare. In LIGHTS ON, RATS OUT, LeFavour chronicles her relationship with a psychiatrist as she struggled in her mid-20s with bulimia, depression and self-harm. Her tale is harrowing --- she burned her arm and other places with cigarettes to the point of scarring and infection. Yet it is also fascinating as she recalls the books that buoyed her, even as she felt herself becoming increasingly dependent on her therapist and unable to live a healthy life on her own.

LeFavour meets the psychiatrist she names Dr. Kohl when she accompanies her boyfriend to an appointment. Already suffering from bulimia and clinical depression, and never having come to terms with the neglect she experienced in childhood, she decides to continue treatment with Dr. Kohl on her own. She quickly finds herself attracted to him, but more than that, she is dependent on him. Her time between appointments is spent thinking about him, and her time with him is spent trying to understand the root causes of her anxiety and manage her mental health. Dr. Kohl uses her reliance on and ties to him to issue an ultimatum after she begins severely and ritualistically burning herself: stop self-harming, or either lose him as a therapist or voluntarily check into a mental hospital.

"...a brave and honest memoir.... LIGHTS ON, RATS OUT is quite sad and piercingly smart, making for an unforgettable read."

After a period of avoiding self-harm, LeFavour admits to Dr. Kohl that she has burned herself again. Instead of risking losing him, she admits herself to the hospital. While the in-patient treatment is not as successful as she or her caregivers had hoped, it does seem to put her on the road toward better control of her illness. It is soon after discharge that she meets Dwight, her future husband and a man with whom she almost instantly connects. LeFavour does not recount all the years between meeting Dwight and writing the memoir, and readers can only imagine the challenges she faced, especially as she continued to wrestle with her feelings for the parents who abandoned her at the age of 13. However, her budding relationship with Dwight seems positive, and it does break her dependency on Dr. Kohl as she comes to love and trust someone new and then move away to start the next chapter of her life.

LeFavour’s narrative is highly charged and often difficult to read. She relies not just on her memories and impressions of her time working with Dr. Kohl, but on the charts and notes he gave her and that she received from the hospital when she exited their care. It is not always easy to follow or comprehend her account of the conversations that took place in her sessions with Dr. Kohl, but those scenes remain poignant and heartwrenching nonetheless. Her parents are enigmatic and almost shadowy figures whose actions created long-standing emotional damage. However, her older sister, Nicole, is a bright spot here, a source of strength without which the book would be almost unbearably dark. LeFavour’s writing style becomes stronger, and she offers more clarity as the book progresses. She also often refers to her favorite books and poems --- those in which she found company, strength and solace --- to great effect here.

Frankly this is a tough book. LeFavour addresses much of her own pain, despair and loneliness while still skirting a lot of the familial trauma she experienced (even as she acknowledges that she is doing so). LIGHTS ON, RATS OUT is quite sad and piercingly smart, making for an unforgettable read.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on August 4, 2017

Lights On, Rats Out: A Memoir
by Cree LeFavour

  • Publication Date: August 1, 2017
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 244 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press
  • ISBN-10: 0802125964
  • ISBN-13: 9780802125965