The amazing thing about Khakpour’s book is the way she recognizes that any illness in modern life inevitably enters the mind. I hope Khakpour’s memoir isn’t relegated to the health section of the bookstore or of Amazon, because it’s not really about Lyme, or not most deeply about Lyme—it’s about modern life. And it’s one of the most chilling, if meandering, portraits of it I’ve read ... like reading the diary of someone you always wanted to be like, only to be transfixed by just how bad being that person can be ... Her tale reveals with unsettling clarity that the damage wrought by each of the disappointments is as cumulatively poisoning as any tick bite she might have gotten. And she unmasks the terrifying revelation that any person’s efforts to heal herself, bodily or psychically, have just as good a chance to be wounding as they do to be nourishing ... Khakpour’s prose is beautiful, at once silky and scorching, like the curls of smoke rising from a fire that’s just starting ... She’s profound, even prophetic, in the in-between passages where she’s muddling along, not quite broken but not quite whole, either ... Khakpour has written an unsettling book. But it’s one of lasting merit. It’s something to keep by our desks rather than our bedside tables: not a consolation but a provocation.
Despite its intermittently chatty tone, Sick is a strange book, one that resists the clean narrative lines of many illness memoirs—in which order gives way to chaos, which is then resolved, with lessons learned and pain transcended along the way ... By focussing on place, Khakpour implicitly situates herself in the long line of women who have been, as the writer-director Todd Haynes has put it, speaking of his 1995 film Safe, 'pathologized by their own dis-ease in the world' ... Though she’s worn down by her mistreatment at the hands of some of her doctors, Khakpour seems unsurprised; as a woman of color, born in Iran, she begins from the assumption that many Americans will find her suspect. Her lack of defensiveness is perhaps the book’s most remarkable quality ... Khakpour’s decision to avoid explicit claims to scientific or literary authority is a bold move, one that draws attention to the ways in which women are expected to tell stories of sickness—and the ways in which their storytelling can affect their chances of accurate diagnosis and effective treatment ... Rather than wrestle her subject into more comfortable territory, Khakpour forces her reader to deal with unrelieved uncertainty ... She dramatizes a paradox: solidarity with other sufferers is a source of both comfort and information, and yet it can also lead you to be written off as one more member of the herd of suspected malingerers.
It’s easy to see why Sick has been grouped in several reviews with other 'illness manifestos,' recent books by women who insist on the validity of women’s experiences of and decisions about their own bodies ... But Khakpour is no activist, and Sick is not an illness manifesto. Though Khakpour never abandons her belief that she has chronic Lyme, she doesn’t insist that her readers believe she does. Nor is it necessary to accept the legitimacy of chronic Lyme to embrace Khakpour’s story ... Where Sick differs from most illness memoirs — indeed from most memoirs generally — is that it is not a tale of redemption. Khakpour eschews the arc that takes the memoirist from sick to well or, at least, to enlightened ... As her memoir unfolds, though, Khakpour’s intelligence, humor, and the generosity with which she exposes her vulnerability make us certain that her friends would be eager to help her ... Part of what makes Khakpour so compelling as a narrator is that she rejects the limited menu of identities we usually afford the ill and disabled, in life and in memoirs: brave or pitiful.