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Oxford Messed Up    by Andrea Kayne Kaufman order for
Oxford Messed Up
by Andrea Kayne Kaufman
Order:  USA  Can
Grant Place Press, 2011 (2011)
Hardcover, Softcover, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle

Gloria Zimmerman is a twenty-two year old American doctoral student who has come to Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar and research assistant to Margo Mitchell, a well-known feminist poet. Gloria is a brilliant student who graduated with highest honors from Yale University and who found a missing manuscript of a Sara Teasdale poem belonging to Oxford that had been lost in the library at Yale for many years. Mitchell is indebted to her for 'miraculously finding the missing Teasdale manuscript,' and is looking forward to having Gloria as her research assistant.

Gloria does have one problem: she suffers from severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, which leads her to avoid public restrooms, clean her own bathroom for hours every day, and use antibacterial hand sanitizer so constantly that her hands are permanently red and raw. Her internal thoughts reveal her perfectionism and germophobic illness in uncomfortable detail.

Henry Young is a twenty-five year old British doctoral student, also at Oxford, who is studying music. While Gloria is a good student who is obsessively neat and clean, Henry is a bad student who is sloppy and dirty, and who has some health issues of his own. Gloria and Henry discover that their rooms both open into a shared bathroom. They also share an inability to get along with their parents, as well as a love for the music of Van Morrison. Gloria almost decides to demand a different room with a private bathroom until she hears Henry playing Van Morrison's music.

Gloria and Henry are attracted to each other from the start because they are good-looking, intelligent young people, but more importantly on Gloria's side at least, because of her love for the kind of music that Henry is studying that he plays frequently on his guitar or phonograph. Henry really is a talented musician who can play the guitar, organ, cello, and piano. It takes him a while to realize how serious Gloria's OCD is, but once he does, he makes up his mind to help her in any way he can. He talks his psychologist sister into coaching him so he can help Gloria with Cognitive Behavior Therapy, which she has resisted from professionals. Henry convinces Gloria to accept his help by making a pact with her: if she will accept his help with her OCD, he will accept her help with his dissertation. Gloria convinces him to write his dissertation on the music and poetry of Van Morrison.

Oxford Messed Up is a love story that also informs, and in that respect it isn't always easy to read. Gloria's obsessive self-criticism and germophobia are so severe that one wonders how she can function. At the beginning of the book, she is even refusing to take the medicine that can help OCD, Luvox, and is instead relying on an anxiety medication, Klonopin, but hand sanitizer seems to be more important to her than either of the prescriptions until she actually has a breakdown. Although I liked seeing the changes that Cognitive Behavior Therapy and love brought to Gloria's life, the book gave such a disturbing portrayal of her disorder that I can't really say I enjoyed reading it. Parts of the book were funny, though, and overall it is well-written and compelling.

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