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.
This is a powerful and moving account of the 17 months Kaysen spent on a ward for teenage girls at McLean Psychiatric Hospital. McLean was the hospital of choice for such famous patients as Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell, James Taylor, and Ray Charles. Kaysen, author of the novels Asa, As I Knew Him (Vintage Contemporaries: Random, 1987) and Far Afield (Vintage Contemporaries: Random, 1990), tells her story in a series of short chapters that capture the experience of madness. Her observations about the other young women patients are sharp and touched with a feeling of surrealism that pulls the reader into her world, where the line between sanity and madness becomes murky. As in other works about psychiatric hospitals, this book has its ``good guys'' and its ``bad guys,'' but the author is fairly even-handed in her treatment of both. Included between some of the chapters are copies of documents related to Kaysen's diagnosis and treatment. This is a well-written account of one woman's journey into madness and back. Recommended for general collections.-- Lisa J. Cochenet, Rhinelander Dist. Lib., Wis.
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. (June)
"Poignant, honest and triumphantly funny ... [a] compelling and
heartbreaking story." -The New York Times Book Review
"In piercing vignettes shadowed with humor [Kaysen] brings to life the routine of the ward and its patients.... Kaysen's meditations on young women and madness form a trenchant counterpoint to the copies of her medical records that are woven into the text." -The New Yorker
"An eloquent and unexpectedly funny memoir." -Vanity Fair
''Memorable and stirring ... fascinating. A powerful examination not only of Kaysen's own imperfections but of those of the system that diagnosed her." -Vogue
"Tough-minded ... darkly comic ... written with indelible clarity." -Newsweek
"[A]n account of a disturbed girl's unwilling passage into womanhood ... and here is the girl, looking into our faces with urgent eyes." -Washington Post Book World
"At turns wry, sardonic, witty ... an unusual glimpse of a young woman's experience with insanity. Kaysen presents a meaningful analysis of the dual and contradictory nature of psychiatric hospital ization as both refuge and prison." -San Francisco Chronicle