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Girl, Interrupted
Cover of Girl, Interrupted
Girl, Interrupted
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 in the ward...
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 in the ward...
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  • 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 in 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.

Excerpts-

  • From the book

    Toward a Topography of the Parallel UniversePeople 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. I can't answer the real question. All I can tell them is, It's easy.

    And it is easy to slip into a parallel universe. There are so many of them: worlds of the insane, the criminal, the cnp-pled, the dying, perhaps of the dead as well. These worlds exist alongside this world and resemble it, but are not in it.

    My roommate Georgina came in swiftly and totally, dur-ing her junior year at Vassar. She was in a theater watching a movie when a tidal wave of blackness broke over her head. The entire world was obliterated--for a few minutes. She knew she had gone crazy. She looked around the theater to see if it had happened to everyone, but all the other people were engrossed in the movie. She rushed out, because the darkness in the theater was too much when combined with the darkness in her head.

    And after that? I asked her.

    A lot of darkness, she said.

    But most people pass over incrementally, making a series of perforations in the membrane between here and there until an opening exists. And who can resist an opening? In the parallel universe the laws of physics are suspended. What goes up does not necessarily come down1 a body at rest does not tend to stay at rest1 and not every action can be counted on to provoke an equal and opposite reaction. Time, too, is different. It may run in circles, flow backward, skip about from now to then. The very arrangement of molecules is fluid: Tables can be clocks; faces, flowers.

    These are facts you find out later, though.

    Another odd feature of the parallel universe is that al-though it is invisible from this side, once you are in it you can easily see the world you came from. Sometimes the world you came from looks huge and menacing, quivering like a vast pile of jelly1 at other times it is miniaturized and alluring, a-spin and shining in its orbit. Either way, it can't be discounted.

    Every window on Alcatraz has a view of San Francisco.

    The Taxi

    "You have a pimple," said the doctor.

    I'd hoped nobody would notice.

    "You've been picking it," he went on.

    When I'd woken that morning--early, so as to get to this appointment--the pimple had reached the stage of hard expectancy in which it begs to be picked. It was yearning for release. Freeing it from its little white dome, pressing until the blood ran, I felt a sense of accomplishment: I'd done all that could be done for this pimple.

    "You've been picking at yourself," the doctor said.

    I nodded. He was going to keep talking about it until I agreed with him, so I nodded.

    "Have a boyfriend?" he asked.

    I nodded to this too.

    'Trouble with the boyfriend?" It wasn't a question, actu-ally1 he was already nodding for me. "Picking at yourself," he repeated. He popped out from behind his desk and lunged toward me. He was a taut fat man, tight-bellied and dark.

    "You need a rest," he announced.

    I did need a rest, particularly since I'd gotten up so early that morning in order to see this doctor, who lived out in the suburbs. I'd changed trains twice. And I would have to retrace my steps to get to my job. Just thinking of it made me tired.

    "Don't you think?" He was still standing in front of me. "Don't you think you need a rest?

    "Yes," I said.

    He strode off to the adjacent room, where I could hear him talking on the phone.

    I have thought often of the next ten minutes--my last ten minutes. I had the impulse, once, to get up and leave through the door I'd entered, to...

About the Author-

  • Susanna Kaysen has written the novels Asa, As I Knew Him and Far Afield and the memoirs Girl, Interrupted and The Camera My Mother Gave Me. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Reviews-

  • Publisher's Weekly

    May 3, 1993
    In these brief, direct essays, the author takes a sharp-eyed look back at her nearly two-year stay in a Boston psychiatric hospital 25 years ago. In April 1967, after a 20-minute interview with a psychiatrist she had never seen before, Kaysen, then 18 years old, was admitted to McLean Hospital, diagnosed as a borderline personality. In this series of tightly focused glimpses into this institutionalized world, she writes with a disarming and highly credible suspension of judgment about herself, other patients, the staff and the rules--overt and unspoken--that governed their interactions. Kaysen is an insightful witness, who was able even then to point out to her psychotherapist that his automobiles (a station wagon, a sedan and a sports car) were apt metaphors for his psyche: ego, superego and id. She offers a convincing and provocative taxonomy of experienced insanity--one type characterized by a sped-up, widely inclusive hyper-awareness and another by sluggish response and a sense of time drastically slowed. Supplying reproductions of documents accompanying her stay at McLean, Kaysen ( Asa, As I Knew Him ) draws few conclusions but makes an eloquent case for a broader view of ``normal'' behavior. Author tour.

  • Susan Cheever, The New York Times Book Review

    "Poignant, honest and triumphantly funny. . . [a] compelling and heartbreaking story."

  • Newsweek "Tough-minded . . . darkly comic . . . written with indelible clarity."
  • Diane Middlebrook, Washington Post Book World "[A]n account of a disturbed girl's unwilling passage into womanhood...and here is the girl, looking into our faces with urgent eyes."

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    Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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