Everything You’ve Ever Done By Amelia Marie Whalen, 306 pgs.

The umbrella of punk rock is big enough to accommodate wildly disparate ideas and interpretations. This is part of its charm. This book fits: shows and music are vitals threads in author Amelia Marie Whelan’s debut, but the punk ethos extends beyond these surface-level traits.

Whelan has an amazing relationship with her husband Dave Zagorski—they travel, they have adventures, they support each other’s endeavors. Dave plays music, records bands, and has a candle-making business. Amelia waits tables and camps and climbs.

After a point, the relationship goes sour as Dave gets mean and detaches. Amelia is perplexed by this turn, but she’s in love, and tries to give Dave the benefit of the doubt. Eventually, self-care prevails and she divorces him—only to find, later, that Dave’s brain has degenerated due to adrenoleukodystropy, also known as ALD. Whelan begins blogging her experiences, and their friends and family send Dave off with ‘the mother of all parties,’ a tribute to his life.

Everything You’ve Ever Done is harrowing. It has to be, by dint of its subject matter: a relationship dissolves, a loved one degenerates and dies. Whalen is frank in her discussion: it sucks, it hurts. She’s deft with detail, both heartbreaking and hilarious. As Dave degenerates, he loses first his ability to speak, communicating largely through a series of pterodactyl-like shrieks, making the occasional spoken sentence taking on additional resonance. Inhibitions are lost, too, yielding uncomfortable, unclothed situations (no spoilers here). By juxtaposing pain and hilarity, Whelan’s narrative adds resonance.

This isn’t the sort of book I would have read on my own—I’m usually turned off by discussions of spirituality, which are touchstones for both the process of Dave dying and Whelan trying to heal. But the subject here is discussed with disarming honesty, grounded not so much in orthodoxy as it is organic practicality, a love and connection of the outdoors, and a sense of a larger connection. I admit that the dragonfly on the cover was an initial turnoff, and that the book’s introductory passage seemed to nod towards a bumpy ride prose-wise, with its repetitions and needless words. But, once I got through the intro, the prose became much smoother, as if the initial passage was written earlier than the rest of the book—a sample chapter, maybe?

At any rate, I should have known better. Punk rock is all about not judging books by covers, and there I was forgetting the cardinal rule. Ultimately, Everything You’ve Ever Done pulled me into its rollercoaster trajectory. It’s a tale of loss and redemption, one that should be of interest to advocates of mental health, of healing, and of doing it yourself. –Michael T. Fournier (Ambos Books, everythingyouveeverdone.com)

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