on November 12, 2011
This book is an absolute page-turner. Watching a musician's mind unfold sounds like a blunt horror story, but it is done so subtly and with such taste that it becomes humorous. The book is broken up in such a way that it feels more like a series of vignettes than an actual story, but the flow is so quick and liquid that you'll barely notice. Everytime I tried reading 5 pages, I ended up reading 30, which makes the book go by much too fast. A great companion piece to the Throwing Muses' early material.
As far as I can tell, the content of this book is exactly the same as Hersh's other book "Rat Girl". The same material was apparently released under two different titles. So if you've read one, you don't need to read the other. After reading this, you'll probably wish that there was more, but sadly, one is all there is.
on February 3, 2011
The artist's struggle with mental illness is well trodden literary territory, but this memoir avoids the common clichés. There's no trace of nostalgia, mawkishness, self-pity or bitterness; neither does the author attempt to draw any predictable conclusions or proffer worthy insights on her experiences of mania. Throughout the book the protagonist remains fundamentally grounded, and even during the most psychologically turbulent episodes her descriptions are prosaic, curious, analytical, sometimes almost clinically detached.
By contrast many of the other characters in her world appear far stranger: a deluded painter varnishes unfortunate lizards for his art; a creepy obsessive fan waits on the doorstep with a sinister postcard and a flower; vintage Hollywood star Betty Hutton drinks pond scum in an effort to lose weight; even Joseph Campbell turns out to harbour an unreasonable hatred of dogs. Unusually for a musician's memoir, all of her band members are almost unbelievably sweet and unassuming, but no-one attracts anything more than bemusement or playful criticism. Though Hersh's family appear only on the periphery (perhaps a little too much so for the reader), her relationships are beautifully observed, warm, funny and affectionate.
Comparisons with The Bell Jar are inevitable but lazy: although superficially similar, this is a very different book. It may not top your holiday reading list (as you'd expect, some passages make for uncomfortable reading) but Paradoxical Undressing is a well crafted, moving and surprisingly uplifting account of a short, pivotal chapter in someone's life.