Phil Camp has a problem. Not the fact that he wrote a parody of a self-help book (Where Can I Stow My Baggage?) that the world took seriously and that became an international bestseller, or that he wrote the book under a phony name, Marty Fleck, and the phony name became a self-help guru overnight. Phil cannot be Marty Fleck. He can barely be himself.
No, Phil's problem is that he has been walking with a limp for nine months. Phil is in constant pain, yet there is nothing physically wrong with his body that would cause such agony. This problem leads him to the controversial Dr. Samuel Abrun, a real doctor who wrote a real self-help book (The Power of "Ow!") that made thousands of people pain-free.
So what happens when the self-help fraud meets the genuine item? Does he get better? Can he hobble out of his own way to help himself? Most important, can the reader make it through fifty pages without thinking, Wait a minute. Is that a twinge I feel in my lower back or just gas?
Phil embraces Abrun's unorthodox psychogenic theories passionately but manages to save some passion for Abrun's daughter, Janet, herself a doctor who has her own theories about, and remedies for, chronic pain. If all this weren't enough, Phil tries to delve further into his past with his unconventional psychotherapist, the Irish Shrink, even if it means revealing dark secrets he never remembered telling him the first two or three times. To top it all off, Phil confronts his alter ego's nemesis, right-wing radio blowhard Jim McManus, only to find out they share a common enemy -- the same family.
Like Carl Hiassen and Larry David, author Bill Scheft understands that the best humor is always excruciating. That fits the story of Everything Hurts and its lesson: Pain is the ultimate teacher. By the end, Phil Camp, the self-proclaimed "self-help fraud," turns out to be the real thing. And the real thing turns out to be flawed and confused, but hopeful. In other words, human.
Letterman writer Scheft skewers physical and emotional pain with a mercilessly comic touch and a bit of poignancy. Phil Camp is an accidental guru who wrote a farcical self-help book under the name Marty Fleck as a joke he swears to pay off his divorce settlement. But years have passed, and people still read Fleck's advice as if it's the real thing. Phil, meanwhile, is limping into middle age with an excruciating, undiagnosable leg pain that his own self-help guru tells him is all in his head. Even while trying to lose the limp, woo his guru's daughter, pour out his troubles in absurd therapy sessions and confront the antagonism he has with his right-wing radio talk-show host half-brother, Phil maintains his ability to quip and deliver one-liners. But more important, his journey to avoid bodily discomfort leads him to some less corporeal truths about his life and a reassessment of Marty Fleck. Despite the book's sometimes overly involved asides and flashbacks, Phil is a wonderful protagonist, and Scheft's biting wit coexists nicely with the undercurrent of uplift.