Un­set­tling mem­oir tells of me­chan­i­cal life

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - LIFE -

THE cur­rent rage in fic­tion is for sto­ries about near-hu­man crea­tures such as zom­bies and vam­pires. In non-fic­tion the equiv­a­lent ap­pears to be tales of real but re­pul­sive hu­mans in such ti­tles as Tucker Max’s Ass­holes Fin­ish First and Jon Ronson’s The Psy­chopath Test.

The un­set­tling mem­oir Con­fes­sions of a So­ciopath is the lat­est en­try in this ap­par­ently prof­itable genre.

The author, M.E. Thomas, is a mid-30s Amer­i­can woman, a pi­ano-play­ing, Mor­mon Sun­day-school teacher and law pro­fes­sor — if, that is, a reader can be­lieve any­thing about a book writ­ten by some­one brassy enough to use th­ese ini­tials as a pseu­do­nym.

By the way, Mor­mon dogma, which as­serts that ev­ery­one has the po­ten­tial to be god­like, makes the church “a so­ciopath’s dream; it’s a be­lief that’s well suited to my own mega­lo­ma­ni­a­cal sense of di­vine des­tiny,” Thomas claims.

The author’s note says she — or could it be he? — has changed the names and iden­ti­fy­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics of fam­ily mem­bers and other char­ac­ters, and re­ar­ranged events and times. “Oth­er­wise, this a true and hon­est ac­count and I have not know­ingly mis­rep­re­sented any ma­te­rial facts.” Read­ers have been warned. Thomas op­er­ates the web­site So­ciopathWorld. com, from which she lifts vis­i­tors’ com­ments to pad her first book.

Her ac­counts of psy­chol­o­gists’ at­tempts to define and ex­plain so­ciopaths, who are also re­ferred to as psy­chopaths or peo­ple suf­fer­ing from an­ti­so­cial per­son­al­ity dis­or­der, are fre­quently te­dious.

More re­veal­ing are per­sonal de­tails such as her self-def­i­ni­tion. “I am strate­gic and canny, I am in­tel­li­gent and con­fi­dent and charm­ing, but I also strug­gle to re­act ap­pro­pri­ately to other peo­ple’s con­fus­ing and emo­tion-driven so­cial cues.”

Even an oc­ca­sional bout with emo­tions, such as plea­sure in ob­serv­ing her tod­dler niece, has a me­chan­i­cal ex­pla­na­tion.

“She’s end­lessly charm­ing to me. Her mere ex­is­tence in the world pulls chem­i­cal levers and pushes en­zy­matic but­tons that pro­duce in me im­mense joy. Gen­eros­ity and af­fec­tion are sim­ply its symp­toms and side ef­fects.”

Thomas views her own child­hood as an om­ni­scient rat might view a psy­chol­o­gists’ ex­per­i­ment: “I can see how the an­ti­so­cial be­hav­iours and men­tal pos­tur­ing that now define me were in­cen­tivized when I was grow­ing up.”

The key in­di­ca­tor of so­ciopa­thy, she says, is the lack of a rigid sense of self, il­lus­trated by her “fluid sex­u­al­ity.” In­deed, this tale fea­tures re­peated ro­man­tic and sex­ual ad­ven­tures with women and men.

“I have re­mark­ably beau­ti­ful breasts,” she ex­plains.

An­other in­di­ca­tor might be a ten­dency to pre­fer ma­chines over peo­ple.

The author re­counts her in­ner de­bate about whether to seek per­mis­sion be­fore tak­ing a neigh­bour’s bi­cy­cle for the af­ter­noon. She takes it with­out ask­ing, be­cause “I knew bet­ter than her what was best for the bike. Be­sides, what she didn’t know would not hurt her, and I re­ally didn’t want to bother hav­ing the con­ver­sa­tion with her.”

But through this nar­cis­sis­tic odyssey gleam oc­ca­sional mo­ments of po­etry.

For ex­am­ple, a nearly fa­tal bout of ap­pen­dici­tis in Thomas’s teens prompts the re­flec­tion: “Hos­pi­tals are, of course, de­hu­man­iz­ing places. The worst time of day is predawn, when the floors are es­pe­cially cold and the day­light peek­ing through the blinds feels like a reck­on­ing.”

Was that a stray emo­tion? Or is the author en­gag­ing in her ad­mit­tedly fre­quent mimicry of more main­stream peo­ple, those she dubs “em­paths”?

Read­ers who puz­zle over this mo­ment, or per­haps over this en­tire un­usual book, will re­al­ize that the author won’t un­der­stand their con­cerns — or care.

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