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’m sort of at a loss for how to describe this book and the emotions it provoked within me. I guess the best word I could use is “unsettled”, but probably not for the reason you would imagine.
This quote might shed some light on what I mean:
“The less likely (a) terrible thing is to happen, the less frightening it is to look at or imagine. A person who doesn’t talk to herself or stare into nothingness is therefore more alarming than a person who does. Someone who acts “normal” raises the uncomfortable question, What’s keeping me out of the loony bin?”
Precisely. This story is told not from the perspective of someone who sees creatures lurking in the shadows, or is convinced that she is the girlfriend of a Martian, or is blinded by homicidal rage, but by a young woman fully self-aware of her own shortcomings.
It made me ask myself, which is the worse fate? Descending blindly into madness, or being fully aware of your own dilemma and finding yourself helpless to prevent it?
I think the reason that so many people find this tale so haunting is that while reading it, one can’t help but compare themselves to the narrator. I certainly did. And that’s the very reason this book left me feeling so unnerved.
I was strikingly similar to this MC at the age of her institutionalization. What if I had been unlucky enough to be diagnosed by a therapist like hers? He spent all of fifteen minutes with her and came to the conclusion that she needed to be committed.
After reading about the interaction, I can’t help but wonder…WHY? And more disturbingly…why not ME?
I dare you to read this and not ask yourself the same questions.