23. ‘Devil in the Details’ by Jennifer Traig

Time to make another selection from my wife’s bookshelves. Devil in the Details by Jennifer Traig probably takes the award for the book she has read the most. I remember often waking up in the middle of the night to the sound of her laughter when she reads this one. It has actually been a few years since I read this one myself, and I thought it would make a great followup to Homer’s Odyssey as I’ve been wanting to share more of my wife’s favorites on this blog too.

Devil in the Details: Scenes from an Obsessive Girlhood chronicles the author’s childhood struggles with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Traig suffered from a specific form of OCD known as scrupulosity, pathological guilt relating to moral or religious issues. Combined with a divided family (her father was Hebrew and her mother a Catholic) leads itself to severe behaviors that plagued her throughout childhood and into her teens. Deciding to follow the Hebrew path with its multitude of laws, Traig soon learns that  following this particular religion is nearly impossible with someone that has scrupulosity. The Hebrew religion did provide some salvation for her as “the greatest thing about having so many laws was that you could pick and choose, and move on to the next when the last lost its magic.”

Prior to reading this book, I didn’t know anything about scrupulosity. As a therapist, I’ve worked with several clients with OCD, some more severe than others. It’s important to remember that Traig grew up in the 80’s when there was next to nothing in regards to treatment for this particular disorder. Traig is fearlessly honest regarding her behaviors, such as tirelessly scrubbing her hands before dinner, washing all of her clothes due to the fear that they became tainted with pork fumes, and avoiding all places to sit in the house out of concern that someone that had pork on them sat there at one time. For those professionals looking for specific treatments for OCD, this isn’t the book for you. However, if you are looking for an honest memoir that is full of humor then you will like this book.

The real strength of Jennifer Traig’s story is in the telling. She tells it with a strong sense of humor with scenes that will have you laughing out loud. Despite some truly disturbing scenes, Traig doesn’t hold back and manages use her comedic wit to great effect. I was instantly sucked in to the story.

The only real problem I had with the writing is that the constantly jumping forwards and backwards in time became slightly jarring.

I think it’s all worth mentioning, that this is a great book for anyone that has been a part of a bi-religious family. There are some scenes that point to just how difficult it is for a family to combine and adjust their personal beliefs for the sake of a significant other.

Finally, I would like to commend Traig on her open honesty regarding a difficult period in her life. Just being a teen is difficult, and Traig struggled with a psychological disorder. Most would not want to revisit this part of their lives, but Traig not only revisits but approaches it with both honesty and a great sense of humor. I think she helps take the isolation out of the problem and shows that we are not alone.

“There’s a fine line between piety and wack-ass obsession, and people have been landing on the wrong side for thousands of years.”


Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts!



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