From personal loss to phantom diseases, The Empathy Exams is a bold and brilliant collection, winner of the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize
A Publishers Weekly Top Ten Essay Collection of Spring 2014
Beginning with her experience as a medical actor who was paid to act out symptoms for medical students to diagnose, Leslie Jamison's visceral and revealing essays ask essential questions about our basic understanding of others: How should we care about each other? How can we feel another's pain, especially when pain can be assumed, distorted, or performed? Is empathy a tool by which to test or even grade each other? By confronting pain—real and imagined, her own and others'—Jamison uncovers a personal and cultural urgency to feel. She draws from her own experiences of illness and bodily injury to engage in an exploration that extends far beyond her life, spanning wide-ranging territory—from poverty tourism to phantom diseases, street violence to reality television, illness to incarceration—in its search for a kind of sight shaped by humility and grace.
Novelist Jamison's (The Gin Closet) first collection of essays, winner of the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize, is a heady and unsparing examination of pain and how it allows us to understand others, and ourselves. Whether she's playacting symptoms for medical students as a medical actor, learning about the controversial Morgellons disease (delusional parasitosis), or following ultramarathoners through the rugged Tennessee mountains, Jamison is ever-probing and always sensitive. Reporting is never the point; instead, her observations of people, reality TV, music, film, and literature serve as a starting point for unconventional metaphysical inquiries into poverty tourism, prison time, random acts of violence, abortion, HBO's Girls, bad romance, and stereotypes of the damaged woman artist. She focuses on physical and emotional wounds because, as she writes, "discomfort is the point. Friction arises from an asymmetry." For Jamison, that friction shatters the clich s about suffering that create distance between people, resulting in a more honest and empathetic way of seeing.