Missing the Meat: a review of A Future for Tomorrow by Haley Hatch Freeman

9.16.09 | | 20 comments

Several things happened during Haley Hatch Freeman’s time in the spirit world: she was given the choice to return to earth life, she was shown one of her future children, she was reunited with her dead sister and dead grandmother, she was commanded to learn sign language, and she was commanded to write a book about her experiences as an anorexic teenager. Her memoir, A Future for Tomorrow, is the result of that commandment and is a unique and honest account of Freeman’s experiences with a harrowing mental illness.

Freeman’s story seems like the story of so many other teenage girls. With adolescence budding on her body and boys buzzing around her mind, Freeman–a young LDS teen from Scipio, Utah–finds an avenue of control that will ease her anxiety about all the changes she’s going through and that also brings her a more secure place in the social pecking order: dieting. What begins as some innocent missed meals and some innocent weight loss (she complains her new braces are too tight and she can’t eat) morphs into a much more dangerous illness when Freeman internalizes a few compliments too deeply and begins dieting and exercising to the extreme. Over the course of a year Freeman loses more than half her body weight, is taken out of school, suffers a psychotic break with reality, almost dies, is finally hospitalized and begins the long road to recovery.

But along the way Freeman’s confessional (and fairly conventional) eating disorder tale takes a major detour from the well-trod path of anorexia memoir. When Freeman is at her weakest physically but her parents are still afraid of hospitalizing her, her body is possessed and her spirit is taken to the spirit world to avoid the pain associated with the exorcisms her loved ones on earth are performing. During her time there Freeman learns many things, one of which is the commandment to write a book. The spirit of her dead sister, Heidi, tells her “Part of your purpose on earth is to write a book . . . You need to write a book about your eating disorder and this experience, so you can helps others” (p 153). It is this vision that informs and reforms her narrative from beginning to end, especially by lending purpose and meaning to Freeman’s experiences.

(From the possession onward, Freeman’s story remains a detour from most eating disorders. Despite what one of the hospital technicians says, possession is not common for women with eating disorders. Most eating disordered individuals don’t suffer massive psychotic breakdowns. At one point Freeman displays characteristics of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, but because the doctors believed her case was hopeless they fell just short of formally diagnosing her. Freeman seems to disagree with those doctors, but compared to most eating disordered people, many of Freeman’s experiences are outside the scope of anorexia.)

Because Freeman is out to helps others she spends a lot of narrative time explaining the ins and out of anorexia; how to hide food, how to avoid meals, how to purge through exercise, how tired she is, how easily she bruises, are all explained in great detail. For readers who have never struggled with eating disorders or read other works on anorexia that information is helpful and enlightening. For young readers, especially female LDS teenagers, they will probably be comforted by those facts because they will know they are not alone. Over the course of the book, however, these physical details became tedious–especially near the end of the book when they are supplied in place of the emotional details about the issues fueling Freeman’s illness. For me, as a woman who has struggled with an eating disorder (combination anorexia and bulimia) and seen eating disorders and food and exercise compulsions/addictions plague the lives of my grandmother and sister, I needed more from Freeman. I wanted her to shed light not only on the physical aspects but the emotional and spiritual aspects of her illness and her healing. I needed to see how she understood herself better so that I could maybe understand myself (and my loved ones) better too. Simply put, it left me unsatisfied.

Also because of the visionary purpose of her book, the purpose of teaching others, Freeman makes a few nontraditional (and, for this reader, confusing) choices–the most obvious of which is the choice to tell the first half of her story backwards. Freeman starts the book in the middle of her story, right before she is hospitalized, and then works her way back to a critical moment when she is praised for her braces-induced weight loss. She then skips back to the middle of the story and tells of her possession, vision, and exorcism with her story ending in her release from the hospital and a few remaining epilogue-like chapters about her marriage and children. Freeman explains her chronological choices in the introduction to the book, “The reason behind this is to show the later severity of the disorder, before presenting the small symptoms and my earlier thought process, which in natural order may be overlooked.” She then cautions the reader to “be aware of dates and chapter headings” so as to avoid confusion. Not only was it confusing to read in reverse order, but it had the opposite effect pf what Freeman intended. Where she was hoping to emphasize the severity of the illness it instead made the symptoms peter out and starved the dramatic arc of the book.

All in all, though, Freeman’s book is a good first step. By owning up to the disease and how her family, friends, and teachers fueled it and missed opportunities to help her, Freeman is saying a lot of things other people (especially LDS people) aren’t willing to say. She’s telling a lot of truth, she’s educating a lot people, and because of her likable personality she is getting people that normally wouldn’t talk and think about this illness to do so. (It shouldn’t be surprising that Freeman ended up self-publishing her book through Granite Publishing. I can’t imagine Deseret Book would want to publish a story like this. Although, Cedar Fort has good track record with issues-driven memoirs.) The message of hope and recovery–the fact that Freeman is able to have children is nothing short of miraculous–is an important one to relay to individuals struggling with these issues. Freeman’s quotation of scripture and requests for priesthood blessings outline important spiritual components of mental/emotional wellness. But, because of the editorial weaknesses in the book and the skirting of any in-depth discussion of underlying psychological issues, this book feels a little empty. Reading this book is a bit like being an anorexic at a formal dinner: You do your best to get full by nibbling around the edges, but you’re just not satisfied because you can’t get to the meat of it all.

20 comments: “Missing the Meat: a review of A Future for Tomorrow by Haley Hatch Freeman

  1. Jonathan Langford

    Laura,

    Are there any other memoirs (or other Mormon literature, for that matter) that deals with eating disorders in a narrative frame, within a specifically Mormon context? How does this compare to those other works?

  2. Luisa Perkins

    Great review, Laura. The book sounds worth reading despite its failings.

    My first published fiction was a novel for LDS teenagers about a girl who struggles with anorexia, so this is a topic that interests me.

  3. nosurfgirl

    Sounds interesting. I worked with ED clients for two years at a residential treatment facility in Orem :) having seen some of the beginning of the recovery process I can understand why she might have been caught up in the details of ED and avoided some of the description of the emotional work. That’s a tough thing for a lot of ED victims, seeing the ED as a product of something else, something more important.

  4. Katya

    I find your critique of telling the story out of chronological order interesting, because I have seen such a device employed pretty effectively, but it takes some very careful framing to make it work. (More than just “be aware of the dates and chapter headings.”)

  5. Jonathan Langford

    Cross-threading with something else we’ve been discussing recently… There ought to be (somewhere) a bibliography of Mormon lit dealing with eating disorders. Ideally, that’s the sort of thematic tag that the Mormon Lit Database would include.

  6. Th.

    .

    Knowing Katya as I do, I would not be surprised to see that category this time tomorrow.

    Luisa — what’s the name of your book on the subject?

  7. Laura Craner

    Jonathon– I don’t know of any other LDS books on the subject. Sounds like Luisa’s book would be a good place to start! I betting Anita Stansfield or Rachel Anne Nunes or Jack Weyland has covered it. If I recall correctly, each of them has gone through an “issues” phase with their writing.

    Luisa–Please come back and let me know what you think of Freeman’s book, if you do read it. And what is the name of your book?

    nosurfgirl–You’re probably right about how difficult it is. I still wanted to know it, though. Does that make me selfish?

    Katya–with some editorial direction I think it could have worked. But where this was Freeman’s first book, I think, well, it just didn’t work.

  8. Katya

    Laura – It looks like Jack Weyland’s “Ashley & Jen” is about bulimia and Joni Hilton’s “That’s What Friends are for” is about anorexia.

  9. Wm Morris

    Hi, Marilyn. I love your contest, but a random drive by comment on a random post is not the best way to advertise it. Generally, it’s best to e-mail the owner of the blog with the details and ask them to post the info.

  10. Luisa Perkins

    Th. and Laura, you’re kind to ask. My book is called Shannon’s Mirror. It has been out of print for many years, but used copies still show up sometimes on Amazon.

    Laura, I’ll get back to you after I read the Freeman.

  11. Lisa Torcasso Downing

    And here is my first ever post on Motley vision.

    I actually got a chuckle out of Marilyn’s drive-by.

  12. nosurfgirl

    no, not selfish at all!

    Just saying, it might not even be something conscious to her, pieces of her recovery process… maybe not something she could quite aknowledge.

    I would want to know, too. And I would find it a little bit frustrating to read something like that and not have the “back issues” be a huge part of the recovery description.

  13. Karen Gowen

    I checked Marilyn’s link and is it my computer or did it go to my Vox blog spot?? I’m talking about what happened when I clicked on her name, very odd results when I saw my own name show up!

    On the other topic, I am currently reading Freeman’s book and am finding the time changes not at all disconcerting. In fact, I see it as snapshots tossed together, not in any particular sequence, but all dealing with the same subject. So far it is working for me.

  14. Harlow

    Laura,
    If you haven’t already read it, you might find Susie Orbach’s Hunger Strike interesting. She’s a puh-see-a-key-a-trust (lo, the effect of watching Lucy and Ricky and Fred and Ethel so much in my childhood) who wrote a bestseller called Fat is a Feminist Issue. I picked Hunger Strike up once in the library and a passage about working through the rhythms of taking things in and out with her patients caught my eye, so when I saw a copy at DI or somewhere, I bought it. I haven’t read it yet and I’m not sure where my copy is.

    I’ve been thinking a lot for several years about writing a novel or story about a male anorexic (we can’t let the poor Hunger Kunstler starve by himself). Orbach sees anorexia as a means of exercising control, striking back or out, or maybe out on your own.

    For the character I’m mulling over hunger is a means of striking back at himself for not being a good provider. In a way he’s caught between competing images–Liz Taylor at the end of Taming of the Shrew lecturing Bianca about how her husband commits his body to painful labor for her, and that phrase, “I always wanted you to admire my fasting.”

    They’re competing images because his ex-wife will never acknowledge his painful labor, partly because it never earned him enough to feed her children, and he can’t tell his now-wife that he wants her to admire his fasting.

    And of course, my wife just said get to bed. Our son got home from the Homecoming dance an hour ago, so gud knyghte.

  15. Laura Craner

    Harlow–Thanks for the recommendation. Your story sounds interesting. . . I haven’t read a lot from the anorexic male’s point of view. Can’t wait to see it!

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