Fifty Shades of Gray Matter Teresella Gondolo book review
book review

Book Review: Fifty Shades of Gray Matter

FIFTY SHADES OF GRAY MATTER by Teresella Gondolo, MD is a captivating series of neurological anecdotes written with poetic prose. Check out more of what Timothy Thomas has to say in his book review of this Atmosphere Press book.

Fifty Shades of Gray Matter

by Teresella Gondolo, MD

Genre: Nonfiction / Science

ISBN: 9781639887798

Print Length: 382 pages

Publisher: Atmosphere Press

Reviewed by Timothy Thomas

A captivating series of neurological anecdotes written with poetic prose

Oscillating between despair and elation, Fifty Shades of Gray Matter is a journey through the complexity, wonder, and utter mystery of the connection between body and mind, told by loosely connected stories that reflect the author’s experiences as a neurologist. It is a book that knows what it is, comfortable in the uncertainty of its propositions while leaving the reader to guess at its conclusions; a mirror of the elusive nature of neurology itself. 

Dr. Teresella Gondolo’s book is divided into 6 sections: Unfamiliar Faces, Psychiatry: An Interlude, Not Just A Matter of Sex, Medical Mysteries, COVID: An Interlude, and Endings. 

Though the chapters contained in each section are unified by the common theme suggested by the title of the section, the stories contained therein are varied in their peculiar offerings as to nearly seem disjointed. Each chapter recounts the author’s encounter with one or more patients suffering from some malady that has left the patient confused and, in many cases, somewhat debilitated. 

These stories are told alongside the doctor’s own commentary drawn from her extensive medical knowledge and her personal history as an Italian immigrant to America, always delivered with succinct clarity of thought and elegant command of language. The curious cases themselves are fascinating, eliciting reactions varying from light amusement, to utter bewilderment, and even sheer trepidation as the reader is provoked to consider themselves in the place of the afflicted. Some stories have happy endings: the doctor is able to determine the cause and a solution is prescribed; but others inspire feelings of hopelessness as medical science fails to provide answers for the ailments, ultimately resulting in death. So helpless, at times, are the circumstances, that the work comes across as a commentary on the ineffectiveness of our modern medical system, pills and all. 

Fifty Shades of Gray Matter is praiseworthy for its matter-of-fact storytelling in combination with the author’s writing style. As the reader, you sit in the seat across from each patient as they communicate their woes, and Dr. Gondolo’s refined powers of observation provide vivid imagery of the state of the patient sitting before you. From the weather outside to the office atmosphere, her scene setting descriptions are part of what makes each interaction memorable. 

Since this book is written entirely from Dr. Gondolo’s first person POV, there is a fair amount of personal opinion mixed in with the anecdotes. Descriptions of people tend to be accompanied by her personal assessment, both flattering and unflattering. Her inner monologue at times also reveals assumptions in her judgment relative to a person’s personal life. The honesty with which she details these experiences is commendable, and it must be noted that part of her job as a neurologist is to make a complete assessment of the individual to determine the best course of action. Nevertheless, some readers may find her forthright manner somewhat distasteful. 

Fifty Shades of Gray Matter is a worthwhile read for those who enjoy learning about lesser-known neuro-/psychological maladies. It serves as a reminder of the fragility of life, how suddenly our world can be turned upside down from the abrupt affliction of oneself or a loved one. While the book does offer some small comforts in the face of these hardships, it largely leaves the reader to draw their own conclusions and meaning from the tales told. What is certain, however, is that this book is sure to provide some insight into the mysteries of our brains, using engaging stories and unapologetic candor.

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