By: Teresella Gondolo
Publisher: Atmosphere Press
Publication Date: May 2nd, 2023
Reviewed by: Douglas C. MacLeod, Jr.
Review Date: April 5, 2023
Dr. Teresella Gondolo, a neurologist in Jackson Heights, Queens, New York, and writer of the new book Fifty Shades of Gray Matter, is very much like a real-life Gregory House. Patients and their families sometimes walk, or oftentimes hobble or get wheeled, into her office and speak to her about the odd symptoms and awkward behaviors they have exhibited for days or months or even years. It seems like Dr. Gondolo has heard and seen it all. From epilepsy to tight collar syndrome, from strokes to copper poisoning, from common psychiatric issues to brain parasites, Dr. Gondolo is deeply familiar with the strange and unusual characteristics of the human brain, which gives her enough fodder to write what is a most fascinating but imperfect book about her peculiar experiences in medicine.
The work is broken up into several distinct parts, and each part has multiple stories/chapters that are somehow connected to said parts. The stories themselves are strong and simply stated (if sometimes too personal, meaning we hear a lot about Dr. Gondolo’s backstory in the book) to understand the content and the medical theories surrounding each patient’s diagnosis; Dr. Gondolo understands the clearer the sentence, the more engaged readers will be with the subject matter. She has good instincts about what her readers need from her, very much like when she sees a patient and generally knows immediately what is wrong with them. In her essay “Accent on the Accent,” she speaks about a Peruvian woman, Maria S., who only knows Spanish but will occasionally stare into space and speak small sentences in English. After extraneously speaking about her experience as an Italian immigrant, Dr. Gondolo uses the time to speak to this phenomenon as being an anomaly--that, and when one speaks in a “foreign” accent even if born in a specific country where that accent is not prominently used (if one was born in the United States but spoke with an English accent, for example). Even if more than half of the essay is about Dr. Gondolo’s experience, to learn information about temporal lobe epilepsy and how doctors diagnose this affliction by using observation and deductive reasoning is enlightening and helpful.
That is not to say that Fifty Shades of Gray Matter is trying to help readers self-diagnose their own or their family members’ medical problems. In fact, Dr. Gondolo implicitly attempts to do the opposite and is successful in achieving one of her goals: showing readers how not every disease or disorder is easily predicted, not even in some cases by credible medical professionals. Tangentially, the book is a cautionary tale to those mindlessly googling to find out “what they have.” Dr. Gondolo speaks to how perception is not reality, how science trumps faith, belief, and emotion, and how, as it pertains to the brain, our environment, and the people around us, nothing is guaranteed. Ultimately, Fifty Shades of Gray Matter proves the human brain is a strange thing that has a mind of its own.
Quill says: Fifty Shades of Gray Matter is an informative but imperfect look at the mysteries of the human brain from a reliable and capable source, who interrupts the flow of her patients’ stories with her own personal narratives.
For more information on Fifty Shades of Gray Matter, please visit the website: graymatterauthor.com/graymatter/