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Devil in the Details: Scenes from an obsessive girlhood    by Jennifer Traig order for
Devil in the Details
by Jennifer Traig
Order:  USA  Can
Little, Brown & Co., 2004 (2004)

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Jennifer Traig had a strange childhood, despite relatively regular parents and sister. Though the condition wasn't labeled at the time, she tells us that she suffered from the age of twelve throughout her teens 'a strange condition called scrupulosity, a hyper-religious form of obsessive-compulsive disorder.' She tells us she was 'hobbled by constant nagging worries'. Though Traig's recollections are very funny at times, this and her associated anorexia must have caused her parents huge anxiety and made life extraordinarily difficult. But she does make it hilarious in retrospect ...

Traig chose to follow her father's Jewish faith (requiring a conversion since mom was raised Catholic). She tells us that though Christians have the brimstone, Jews have 'minute laws. They have the devil; we have the details', a host of text for 'crazy source material'. It seems that she tried to apply all the rules, though with only a vague understanding of their intent. There's the rather sad recounting of perennial hand washing and eating avoidance, and a very funny account of the author's bat mitzvah - Traig calls these functions 'catered affairs for middle-schoolers.' There's the annual interfaith family attempt to get a cheap Christmas tree, resulting in the decoration one year of a houseplant that mom appropriately called 'a Christmas twee.' And there's the unleashing of the scrupulosity monster at Passover. But the most poignant section talks about being so very different in high school - 'What teenager spends her free time reading psalms and sterilizing salad tongs?'

Fortunately, life became easier and the extreme behaviors were left behind when Traig went to college, where she tells us 'I could run down the hallway and touch every doorknob ... I could do anything. Shalom.' Devil in the Details is both very funny and not funny at all - an absorbing read.

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