Title: Girl, Interrupted
Author: Susanna Kaysen
Publisher: Vintage (Knopf Doubleday)
Time taken to read: 2 days
Goodreads synopsis: In 1967, after a session with a psychiatrist she’d never seen before, eighteen-year-old Susanna Kaysen was put in a taxi and sent to McLean Hospital. She spent most of the next two years on the ward for teenage girls in a psychiatric hospital as renowned for its famous clientele — Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell, James Taylor, and Ray Charles — as for its progressive methods of treating those who could afford its sanctuary. Kaysen’s memoir encompasses horror and razor-edged perception while providing vivid portraits of her fellow patients and their keepers. It is a brilliant evocation of a “parallel universe” set within the kaleidoscopically shifting landscape of the late sixties. Girl, Interrupted is a clear-sighted, unflinching document that gives lasting and specific dimension to our definitions of sane and insane, mental illness and recovery.
I said in my review of The Bell Jar from a couple of weeks ago that that book put me in the mood to read Girl, Interrupted, and so I went right off to the library after writing that review and picked this up. I realized while I was reading it that Susanna was totally at the same mental hospital as Sylvia Plath, which is dope, and if I ever get sent to a psych ward again, I’m going to insist that they send me to McLean, because duh.
Anyway, obviously I can hella relate to the author/main character because I too am a Borderline. But I feel like we barely see her symptoms in this book because she spends so much time explaining what’s going on around her. There is that incident where she thinks she doesn’t have any bones in her hands, but mostly we learn about the other people in the hospital. (Nothing like that has ever happened to me, but there’s still time.) I love when Kaysen asks, “Was insanity just a matter of dropping the act?” I sometimes feel like other people must feel the things that I feel and see the things that I see, because they’re right there in front of my face, right here in my body, and I’m in the same exact world as them–but they don’t act like me, so they must be suppressing it somehow, or lying to themselves and/or everyone else. Or maybe they just weren’t made to see and feel those things. And then I feel a little lucky, like I’m enlightened or something. I can see the truth, and other people are kept in the dark.
Well, that’s enough of my insanity for one review. I kind of like the way the story is told sort of out of order, because it felt like she was talking to me. At least when my best friend and I tell stories, it never comes out perfectly in the right order. We always have to backtrack a little and then find our place again, and that’s how this book felt, which was kind of comforting. It felt like the author was my friend.
Kaysen also says, “People ask, how did you get in there? What they really want to know is if they are likely to end up in there as well.” Maybe that was true in 1967, but I don’t think it’s true now. I think regular, normal people know that they are regular and normal and are very comfortable with and proud of that and would never think for a moment that they could end up in a hospital, especially with all the levels of therapy there are for all sorts of issues. I remember once when I was in college, I stopped in the dining hall to get lunch before going to a therapy appointment, and I ran into a girl I had known and liked my freshman year. She asked me what I was doing, and I told her the truth, and she asked, with absolutely no shame, “What do you see a therapist for?” I was shocked, but only because I would never ask someone that. I have no problem being asked and answering it, and I told her. I think she was just curious. People like to gossip. I like to gossip. And crazy people sure are interesting. I probably seemed pretty normal to her, and she wanted to know what was hidden underneath. Which I’m sure Susanna Kaysen could relate to. She seems fairly well-adjusted most of the time. “Seems” is the key word, though.
And now that this review has become all about me and my issues, I’ll stop here. Sometimes I think I don’t write book reviews so much as book responses. In any case, I’m interested to hear if other people felt they could relate to the main character, because I think a lot of symptoms of BPD show up in a lot of people, though in an extremely diluted form–the difference between being normal and having a diagnoses is that we feel all the things and we feel them so gosh darn much.