My Cranky Gut

I have written previously about Jon Reiner and his book, The Man Who Couldn’t Eat. I was especially thrilled to have the opportunity to see him at a reading, shake his hand and speak with him for a few short moments. I also took home a signed copy of his book that night. It took a while for it to make its way up to the top of the pile, but it finally did a week or so ago. I finished it today, and am tempted to read it again!

This book is a memoir, describing a year out of Mr. Reiner’s life. A rather eventful year. The story starts during a Manhattan February in which the author, a long-time Crohn’s patient, finds himself unexpectedly on the living room floor in absolute agony. One thing leads to another and after a would-be-comedic-if-it-weren’t-life-threatening series of events, is given a ‘nothing by mouth’ order. For the next few months, all of Mr. Reiner’s nutritional needs are provided by IV, and absolutely no food or liquid is to be ingested. Not surprisingly, this has numerous effects not only on his own psyche, but on those of the people closest to him, and on his relationships with his family, his friends, and indeed, his humanity.

To say that this is a book about Crohn’s Disease, or the difficulties of living with a ‘nothing by mouth’ order would do the book a grave injustice. This is a book about pain, suffering, and recovery. It is an exploration of some of the fundamental tenets of humanity and what it means to be denied them. One is left also with the impression that this book is about forgiveness; granting it to one’s self, and seeking it from those whom one has injured.

One of the elements that I feel made this book particularly successful are Mr. Reiner’s gifts with humor and language. This could easily have been a dismal slog, elbow deep in misery, but thanks to the author’s penchant for self-deprecation and his keen observations on the human condition, all his pain and misery is balanced with a lightness that keeps the reader engaged and interested, alternately peppering the experience with grins and grimaces. Mr. Reiner makes no apologies for his self-assigned status as a hedonist, and his descriptions of the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of food had me salivating and wondering if I need to make a trip to New York to taste some REAL pastrami! But more than just the sensual nature of food, the author is made keenly aware of the social nature of it, and more specifically, how the removal of food can mean a removal from many of the rituals of our society. The author never lets us forget that he was no hero as he wound his way through this process. Inasmuch as he felt excluded from society, so too he alienated his wife and children.

I feel as though I could spend several paragraphs talking about this book, but in so doing, I’d not leave you much to discover on your own, so I’ll bring this to a close. I found this book to be a delight to read. I also found it a sobering reminder to take care of myself and my gut in the hopes that I don’t end up in the truly desperate straits that Mr. Reiner found himself. This book is not about Crohn’s disease, nor does one need to suffer from Inflammatory Bowel Disease to appreciate it. This is a book about being human, and I believe that if you are human, you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.


" An exploration of the fundamental tenets of humanity."