Dyscalculia is finally getting the attention it deserves as the lesser-known sibling condition to dyslexia. I was intrigued by the title of Camonghne Felix’s book, its tantalizing promise to connect dyscalculia to Felix’s tribulations with romance. Dyscalculia: A Love Story of Epic Miscalculation does all of this, though with less focus on math skills than I hoped. Thank you to NetGalley and publisher One World for the eARC!
Felix experiences trauma at a young age when her cousin molests her. She recounts in stark terms how the aftermath of this trauma was also traumatic, and as a result, something in her brain changed and she started to struggle with math. Though various doctor’s visits netted pronouncements of ADHD, etc.—with one doctor venturing to suggest bipolar disorder, much to her mother’s dismay—medication regimes didn’t seem to help much, and no one, from Felix’s telling, was all that interested in actually getting to the root of the issue. So Felix grew up, drifted, got into a bad romantic relationship, and here we are. We relive the relationship with her, the break up, the depression, the self-harm and suicide attempt. The psychological evaluations. The cycle.
I really enjoyed the style in which this book is written, which surprised me. Each page is short, a paragraph or two. Felix leans on her experience as a poet to conjure up careful descriptions of scenes and action. The chapters here aren’t so much sustained stories as they are lengthy series of missives, back and forth, from different elements of her psyche. They remind me a lot of the poetry of amanda lovelace!
I went into this knowing little about the actual content of the book and expecting there to be more discussion of dyscalculia. In that respect, my hopes were dashed. But that isn’t the book’s fault, just a miscalculation on my part (see what I did there). I mention it only to help others who might have formed the same impression. Don’t get me wrong: the dyscalculia talk is definitely there, but it is a part of the larger discourse Felix engages in over these ideas about being broken and whether or not she is fixable.
Ultimately, Dyscalculia is about how pain and pleasure are too often connected. How what’s bad for you can feel good, and what’s good for can feel bad. How the people in your life who hurt you can sometimes be the only ones you want to let in, and the ones who are there to help don’t always know how. It’s a deep meditation on how external events can reshape our brain chemistry, which in turn affects how we move through life.
Did this book hit me the same I suspect it will hit others? Not really. It verges on poetry in a way that made me zoom through it. And while I can empathize with Felix’s intense episodes of pain, disappointment, and loss, my life has been extremely different from hers; I’m not sure I have ever felt the same depths that she has felt. Dyscalculia did not resonate with me, but I am sure it will resonate with many.