Reviewed by Jill Arent
The Rules of the Tunnel is author Ned Zeman’s story about his “brief period of madness” – otherwise known as his lifelong experience with depression and anxiety disorders seasoned with his stint with electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).
By all appearances, Ned had it all – a writer for Vanity Fair who divided his time between book/magazine parties and celebrity interviews, lived in New York City and Los Angeles-adjacent Canyons, and experienced more than his share of the so-called endless party lifestyle. But inside, he was a veritable ocean of insecurity and anxiety. He spent many a day self-medicating and self-therapying – on top of many a year of professional medicating and therapying. What did he have to show for it? Well, a host of articles, a slew of ex-girlfriends, and a rather impressive collection of missing memories. The missing memories are due to the ECT, Zeman’s last-ditch attempt at becoming “normal” – or whatever approximates normal in the modern world.
His story is engaging but often very disjointed. At first, I thought this was a failing of the story or writing style. As the book progressed, I changed my mind. I think it was intentional – an attempt to translate the workings of his head (or, perhaps more aptly, the non-workings) into print as a means of demonstrating what it felt like to live inside that head. If so, Zeman’s head must have been a disturbing and disconcerting place – and it’s amazing he was able to live there.
The Rules of the Tunnel isn’t a self-deprecating tale of redemption. It is a slog, difficult to read not because of the writing but because of the subject matter. I don’t know that I learned anything new, other than that Zeman should thank his lucky stars that he was surrounded by the people he was, with the resources at his disposal that he had. Many others with similar affliction have been far less lucky and had to do far more with far less. Maybe, in the end, that is where Zeman occasionally lost me, empathetically. He had a tale to tell, and he did. And if it wasn’t pretty to read, well, it certainly sounds like it wasn’t pretty to live either.
A former corporate attorney and government relations/health policy executive, Jill-Elizabeth walked away from that world (well, skipped actually) and toward a more literary life (equally challenging, but infinitely more enjoyable). If you enjoyed this review, please visit her at Jill-Elizabeth.com, the official home of All Things Jill-Elizabeth.
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