The Plight of the Depressed Ph.D: Want by Lynn Steger Strong

Short review: If you are triggered when reading about someone in the throes of depression, you may want to wait until “Want” hits the paperback table.

BUT — if you appreciate such fine storytelling that you’re compelled to keep turning pages until a book is finished, and consider sleep mid-book an optional and not required activity, you may want to pick up Lynn Steger Strong’s latest.

Elizabeth’s life feels like a mess. Maybe. She loves her husband, a former finance bro-turned-carpenter that apparently gives off the Aidan from “Sex and the City” vibe. But the relationship is almost perfunctory. The sex, the kids, the teaching job (ugh, the administrators pissed me off and I don’t even have kids in K-12 anymore) — it’s as if she’s moving through life with no true sense of purpose.

The reader understands this is a person that is battling depression, even if Elizabeth doesn’t want to say it out loud. Instead, she wallows in the memories of a past relationship, stalking her long lost friend Sasha on the internet, she tries, literally to outrun her anxiety every morning, and she’s long since given up on her parents that can’t understand why someone with such a financially stable upbringing continues to be so sad.

There are a lot of threads to pull in this tightly-written short-ish novel — Elizabeth’s fraught relationship with her parents (There’s a reason she’s still breastfeeding her two-year-old and I don’t think it’s because she thinks it’s healthy), her melancholy at her husband’s attempts to support the family with his craft, the headbutting with school administrators, and the need to resolve those question marks from the past so many of us ignore, because it’s too painful to revisit.

With a nod to the title, just what is it Elizabeth wants? Does she know? Does anyone know? Should the emphasis be less on happiness and more on contentment? When offered an opportunity to reverse the family’s dire financial situation, can she take the money considering the very serious string attached? How much is commitment to the marriage ideal worth?

I’m of two minds about the protagonist — on one hand, my Gen X competitive generational angst wants to straight up slap Elizabeth into reality. Girl, you got a Ph.D. from an Ivy League school, a hot cabinet-making husband and two cute kids. Stop blowing the cash at cafes, get a financial counselor, suck it up at school until you can find something better and stop breastfeeding already.

On the other, well … depression is real. It’s not her fault that she’s struggling. She’s doing a lot of things right. Life isn’t fair. This girl DESERVES a break. So, yeah. A thought-provoking, emotional read. I can imagine it will be some time before this book leaves the brain. The story may be fiction, but the struggles are real. Hang in there, Elizabeth.

One thought

  1. Sounds interesting. It reminds me of that movie where the woman is struggling with depression and she creates an alternate identity. Depression is such a serious issue for so many, and I do the same thing as you at times. What do you have to be depressed about? But you are also correct. It’s so much more that that. Nice post.

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