Phil Camp, the crabby protagonist of Bill Scheft’s novel Everything Hurts, is a man in pain. “The pain had started nine months ago. Innocently enough. In his left gluteus,” writes Scheft, erstwhile head writer for The Late Show with David Letterman. “That’s right. Pain in the ass.” Phil, a divorced former sportswriter who has accidentally remade himself as a self-help guru, spends his days (and nights) lying on a wrestling mat in his sprawling Manhattan apartment, writing a popular syndicated newspaper column based on his bestselling book Where Can I Stow My Baggage? He rises from time to time to limp to doctors and therapists. Nothing helps — until a peculiar man in sandals hands him a dog-eared copy of The Power of “Ow!” How the Mind Gives the Body Pain, by one Dr. Samuel Abrun. Abrun’s book — which attributes most pain to “Acute Psychogenic Syndrome,” or repressed rage — launches Phil on a journey of self-discovery that leads him to revisit difficult childhood memories; forces him to confront his bitterly estranged half brother, conservative radio talk-show host Jim McManus; and delivers him a love interest, Dr. Samuel Abrun’s smart, beautiful daughter, Janet. At times, Everything Hurts itself can be a bit painful: It’s clear early on what needs to happen for the central conflict to be resolved, yet Scheft stretches it out nearly to the breaking point before wrapping it all up in an almost-too-pat package. What’s more, Phil’s conflict hinges on a memory that’s hugely important to him but somewhat trivial to the reader. However, despite the book’s flaws, Scheft’s clever prose and quirky characters inject a good dose of wry humor into the proceedings — just what the doctor ordered.
About the Writer
Amy Reiter, a former editor and senior writer for Salon, has written for The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post Book World, Glamour, Marie Claire, Wine Spectator, and American Journalism Review, among other publications.