This isn't a book you'll want to pull out on a crowded train, with clinical terms like clitoris
, not to mention earthier ones like the F
word, on virtually every page to attract the startled attention of the passenger in the next seat. Bluntly describing her yearlong effort to deal with a searing pain in her vagina, Susanna Kaysen doesn't stint on the details of what this malady did to her relationship with her boyfriend (nothing good), nor is she forgiving of the callousness and stupidity displayed by some of her doctors and various alternative health practitioners. Yet her appalling saga is compulsively readable, thanks to Kaysen's propulsive prose and sharp dialogue. She's particularly good at capturing the way people talk about their ailments over dinner and in the middle of other activities. Conversations with friends ramble from her medical problem to tiger maple furniture in an utterly convincing way, and one darkly funny scene shows a pal urging Kaysen to buy a coral necklace following a particularly horrid visit to the doctor because, "You have to get a nice thing after that appointment." Kaysen's laconic humor keeps the book from seeming self-pitying, though her terseness tends to muffle its emotional impact; she expresses her emotions without really conveying them to the reader in any depth. Nonetheless, the pared-down candor that made her portrait of mental illness so gripping in Girl, Interrupted
also distinguishes this account of a decidedly physical affliction. --Wendy Smith
From Publishers Weekly
Eight years ago, Kaysen's affecting story of her two years in a psychiatric hospital, Girl, Interrupted, helped sparked the memoir craze and later became a Hollywood blockbuster. Now Kaysen, also an accomplished novelist (Asa, As I Knew Him; Far Afield), returns with this thin, disappointing chronicle of what happened when "something went wrong" with her vagina. The terse narrative chronicles her quest to determine the cause of and cure for disabling vaginal pain vestibulitis, the medical term for a "sore spot" on the wall of her vagina. The most intriguing element is Kaysen's explosive relationship with an unnamed live-in boyfriend who, despite her pain, pressures her to have intercourse: "I want to fuck you, goddammit, he said, lunging at me, pushing his hand between my legs. I jumped out of bed. I was naked... I ran downstairs. All I could think of was to get away from the bed and from him and his fingers. I pressed my back against the wall in the living room and shook, from cold and the remnants of my desire." Later, sans boyfriend, Kaysen reflects too briefly on how she's changed as her desire for sex evaporates, concluding, "when eros goes away, life gets dull." Stingy with basic facts the reader is left wondering how old she is and how she spends her days (writing? teaching?) the memoir is admirable in its honesty and insights into medicine's limits. (Oct.)Forecast: Already the subject of a New York Times piece suggesting this "autopathography" may become the target of a backlash against such transgressive confessions, Kaysen's slight memoir will spark some controversy, but don't expect Girl, Interrupted-level sales.
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