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Review of The Red Zone by Chloe Caldwell

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Chloe Caldwell worries about her brand.

In her memoir “The Red Zone: A Love Story,” Caldwell grapples with the realities of her 30s, having spent her first three books in her 20s. “I’ll Tell You in Person,” “Women” and “Legs Get Led Astray” draw inspiration from a decade of antics and fantasy: writing daring personal essays, having sex with the most interesting people ‘she was able to find, do odd jobs and get medicine.

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Caldwell is grown now. Strange visitors are at his door – PMDD, or premenstrual dysphoric disorder and a future life partner who happens to be a divorced man with a daughter. Here, our heroine embarks on another journey: establishing a peace accord with her own period, whose cyclical hormonal fluctuations wreak havoc on her body and relationships.

Caldwell built her literary identity with depictions of that earlier era, when she dated women, posted dodgy personal ads, and paraded her escapades in her essays. His voice was refreshing. These books are lighthearted contributions to a canon forged by “Wounds of Passion”, in which Bell Hooks wrote: “Sexual desire, the desire to reconcile those desires with the desire to experience love, were all part of my struggle to become a writer, to invent a writer’s life that could nurture and sustain a liberated woman.

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Such fodder, when told by Caldwell with the flippant yet harsh candor of bar conversation, makes her a beloved It Girl.

“Single became my brand, my identity,” she wrote. “Most of the time, I felt empowered by my unconventional life. I was the female role model I always needed. Some women had to stay single to show the younger generation that it was possible. That you can live alone, be financially stable, have your own career.

In “The Red Zone,” Caldwell begins boldly, as she has often done: “This morning we had a brief argument about my blood clots.” The next 284 pages show Caldwell on the long journey to self-knowledge. Classified by Johns Hopkins as a “serious, chronic medical condition that requires attention and treatment,” symptoms of PMDD can include depression, irritability, fatigue, heart palpitations, vomiting, and gastrointestinal upset. As problematic as the neurological effects can be, Caldwell and his partner, Tony, mostly have trouble navigating the brooding, angry, and sinister ways of being created by the disease.

To find relief, she harnesses her episodes for semi-scientific investigation and emotional revelations that ultimately serve to connect Caldwell to Tony, his daughter, and a network of women obsessed with finding out why they cross. rage and agony. These women endured excruciating, often emotionally shattering episodes, alternately unrevealed, unrecognized, or shunned, and found themselves on the internet, via blogs, Reddit, and, finally, in real life at a PMDD convention. There, Caldwell teaches a creative writing workshop which, along with her marriage, provides a story arc to “The Red Zone”. The engagement is presented as a triumph of her and Tony’s commitment, who survived the fights Caldwell staged while suffering from PMDD. She’s savvy enough to know that such trajectories are reminiscent of Victorian literature, whose women were either married or dead on the last page.

More Than PMS: How PMDD Affects My Parenthood

As part of Caldwell’s research, she catalogs advertisements for menstrual products, which appear in the book to illustrate their propensity for Puritan shame, and interviews family members and friends willing to share stories about their menarche. This ancient female rite of passage has been downgraded into fake horror tales by fashion magazines that fetishize prepubescent bodies for profit. Humiliation has real effects on a woman’s relationship, not the least of which is with her own body.

In the end, although I appreciate when the form makes sense, the rehearsals in “The Red Zone” have not always been fruitful. Recursion works best when each return to a scene or idea takes on more meaning, which complicates the argument. But “The Red Zone” isn’t always deepened by its myriad juxtapositions of Caldwell’s youth as a child of divorce with his current penchant for screaming little matches while dealing with the real struggles of his period. “The Red Zone” could have been distilled to at least 50 pages without losing its value.

Still, I found myself texting images of some pages to a friend who I suspect has PMDD and would therefore benefit from Caldwell’s compendiums of treatments, including Prozac, which alleviated her symptoms. From a literary perspective, the lists are convenient but overused as a substitute for deeper musings on trial and error solving a puzzle irrelevant to capitalist patriarchy.

“Unpredictable. Terrifying. Paralyzing. These are the words used by one woman to describe how she experiences PMDD, and they are reminiscent of the wisdoms given by quarantine where ‘The Red Zone’ finds Caldwell drained of reckless energy but inhabiting a more primordial place, “integrated at last. ”

Kristen Millares Young is an award-winning journalist, essayist and author of the novel “Subduction.”

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