Anna Penenbergâ€™s memoir, â€śDancing in the Narrows,â€ť a mother-daughter odyssey through chronic illness (July 7, 2020, She Writes Press), takes readers on a journey that is surprising, tense, and sometimes surreal.
On one hand, readers go for a ride with a single mother desperately trying to solve the mystery of her daughterâ€™s unexpected and debilitating symptoms. On the other hand, this memoire tells the story of a woman who has to reclaim her life after it gets put on hold for her daughterâ€™s illness.
The structure of the story might seem confusing at first. As is so often true in life, Penenbergâ€™s experience does not follow a direct path, and neither does the telling of it. The author winds her readers through the twists and turns of a complicated and often messy phase of her life.
The prologue allows a glimpse of the happy days when Penenbergâ€™s family is young. Itâ€™s a period when life is spent in a playhouse made of sunflowers and days pass watching caterpillars turn to butterflies, albeit butterflies with special needs from transforming in captivity. From there, the reader is plunged into the college years of the author. This section follows Penenberg as she goes through her own transformation from dance student to trauma to dance therapist. (Penenberg will ultimately obtain certifications in other healing modalities and focus her clinical practice on trauma treatment.)
The next section of the book reintroduces the authorâ€™s daughter, Dana. She is now 16, no longer playing in the sunflower house. In the middle of what seems like a normal teenage life, symptoms of illness emerge. Here the wild ride to diagnosis and treatment begins. For the next four sections, the reader goes along as Penenberg explores the medical establishment, various kinds of alternative treatments including hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), light therapy, intravenous immunoglobulin(IVIG), intravenous vitamins and nutrients, plasmapheresis, rife frequency machine, stem cells, essential oils, acupuncture, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and homeopathy. You name it and itâ€™s likely that Penenberg and Dana experienced it.
In the final section, Dana is doing well enough to set off to college. One day, back at home, Dana explains to her mother that her homemade face cream made of beef fat is making her bedding smell â€śgamey.â€ť She asks her mom to wash all the laundry. With this, Penenberg hits her breaking point. In spite of Dana claiming to feel unwell, her mother exclaims â€śThis isnâ€™t about you! This is about me!â€ť And there it is. The reader has come full circle, and in some ways the structure of the memoire makes sense.
This book isnâ€™t about Dana or Lyme disease or alternative medicine. It is about a woman, Penenberg, getting through what life throws at her and finally reclaiming space for herself.
The last scenes of the memoire have us tagging along with Penenberg as she goes to dinner with a friend and a guy who makes her remember how long sheâ€™s been on her own. Lyme disease left her with little time for a private life.
Finally, with Dana doing somewhat better, Penenberg hopes to focus on her own needs. Still, the author illustrates how messy just regular life can be. The evening does not go well. This guy is not the guy. He monopolizes the conversation, ignoring Penenbergâ€™s feelings. As the tedious evening winds down, her companion declines dessert but Penenberg makes a bold decision involving lava cake that marks the beginning of a new stage of her life.
Get ready! Youâ€™ll be craving chocolate for many reasons by the time you end your journey with Anna Penenberg.