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Hesitation Wounds: A Novel Hardcover – November 3, 2015
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“Hesitation Wounds reads like a fever dream, or the last second of a deeply feeling woman's life. It is full of brilliantly observed pain and truth. It is an in-depth unblinking report on the deepest of all bonds, familial love. It is spare but it is also somehow full. Its truths are so sharp I began to read with my head slightly averted, as if expecting the next blow. She is way more unflinching than you or me. Her language is simple, deceptively so, the further she goes, as if depth stole oxygen and there was only so much breath left for words, so they had better be true. And they are true. It's a jagged, dangerous, beautiful book that affirms life even as it affirms the impossibility of life. Like Beckett, she can't go on, she will go on.”
- David Duchovny, author of Holy Cow
“Amy Koppelman has wrangled into the world a marvel of a book in terms of language and character and story. It should find her the audience she’s long deserved.”
- Mary Karr, The New York Times bestselling author of The Liar's Club and Lit
“Fearless, unflinching, entrancing”
- Thomas Beller, author of J.D. Salinger: The Escape Artist
“Who are we without the ones we love? Amy Koppelman’s brilliant latest is richly sympathetic, and deeply moving, and truly, like that one lone star sparkling in the darkest sky. Gorgeously written, the novel is so hypnotic that you don’t dare risk taking your eyes from the page.”
- Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of Is This Tomorrow and Pictures of You
“Readers who like psychological fiction and don’t expect a conventional narrative will appreciate Koppelman’s exploration of the struggle to come to terms with loss.”
“[Koppleman’s] a novelist of astonishing depth and power, with a dark and haunting voice that is both lyrical and fearless.”
“Somber and absorbing.”
“In her spare but richly layered third novel, Amy Koppelman explores what happens when a life ruptures with the trauma of loss ― and what happens with the sutures knitting that wound begin to unravel.”
“Koppelman’s short sentences read like bits of poetry or song lyrics. Her snapshot images build on each other, creating a kaleidoscope of Susa’s life. Throughout this slim novel, Koppelman maintains a mood that could, in lesser hands, dissolve into melodrama, but she succeeds with careful observations in precise and potent language”
- The Rumpus
About the Author
Amy Koppelman is a graduate of Columbia's MFA program. Her writing has appeared in The New York Observer and Lilith. She lives in New York City with her husband, Brian Koppelman, and their two children. Her previous novels are A Mouthful of Air and I Smile Back, which premiered at Sundance Film Festival and starred Sarah Silverman.
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Some of us, in a cry for help, physically hurt ourselves, slicing wrists with non-fatal "hesitation wounds’, and hopefully help will be there for you. Some slice deeply, with determined focus, and they leave a family mourning their loss, communally sharing the stigma of not having been the savior of their loved one as they self-destructed. Yet others, like the protagonist, Dr. Susanna Seliger, a psychiatrist ironically specializing in treatment resistant depression, has inflicted “hesitation wounds” upon herself that can’t be seen, and don’t leave outward scars…she cuts holes into her own fragile ego, stabs her sense of self-worth, slices off the hope for future happiness, and most hurtful, continually plunges in a dagger to keep open the wound of despair for a long dead brother…no fatal wounds here, barely visible to others, but a terrible burden none-the-less.
I’m not good at interpreting metaphor or allegory, but I’m guessing that Amy Koppelman is exceptional at creating them. If I wasn’t curious about the term and title “hesitation wounds”, and if I didn’t Google it, Ms. Koppelman apparently wasn’t going to spell it out for me…like a chiding teacher who points to the dictionary and says, “look it up, if you want to know the meaning”.
The book was written with a kind of chronological jumbling, frequently rolling into quasi Stream of Consciousness mode, which I normally hate, but it worked here. Again, because I’m not that clever, I’m thinking that this approach perhaps mirrored Dr. Seliger’s specialty, which was ECT, electroconvulsive therapy…ECT, as explained, is used when psycho-pharmaceutical options are not working. Though her patient, Jim, describes his sessions as getting his brain fried, Dr. Seliger is adamant to explain that the procedure has come a long way since Ken Kesey’s imaginings in the 1962 “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”.
In the end, this story is about grabbing onto hope, and not letting go. It’s about facing your demons and saying “no more, I’m done with you”. It’s about addressing the ghosts of lost loved one’s and explaining, “I’m alive, it’s still my time to engage with the living world”. It’s about mustering the courage to let go of a toxic real-time relationship. It’s about forgiving yourself for abandoning someone in the past who loved you without constraint or condition. It’s about traveling half way across the globe to claim the child who needs a mother, and to committing yourself to being that mother, a source of incessant love, for the rest of your days.
The story explores themes of loss and loneliness, of the adversities one faces when coping with mental illness, of love and friendship and happiness. While I wouldn't describe the tone as light--Hesitation Wounds is too raw and real for a descriptor such as that--it does have a cautious note of optimism, a note that doesn't feel contrived but earned.
Every character is complex and fully realized-- Susa, Ray, Jim, Daniel, Mai, even smaller characters like Jim's wife, Cindy-- stayed with me long after I turned the last page and had me celebrating their joys and hurting for their losses along the way.
All of this-- theme, message, character, plot-- is all captured in Koppelman's vivid prose. Her descriptions burn images into your mind, her characters' anecdotes are both revealing and unique, and her dialogue is both profound and sincere.
Overall, Hesitation Wounds is a book I would recommend to any reader, and one I can't recommend enough.
“It's the end of summer now. We are on our backs, arms and legs touching. We gaze at the moon. Margo thinks the moon is hanging especially low. It wants to shake your hand.”
But other times, the details of his tragic and somewhat reckless death creep through.
Her patient, Jim reminds her of Daniel. They both have similar builds and voices. Speaking of Jim elicits constant thoughts of death in her because he is suicidal. Just before he is about to receive another round of electric shock treatments which he has no faith will work, he asks her to tell him a story about what his life will be like six years from now. Koppelman's account through Suze of what a day in the life of a future, happily-adjusted, family man, Jim, will be like is beautiful and cinematic. It truly moved me, and I hope there will be a film version of “Hesitation Wounds” someday to see this passage unfold in pictures.
While most books depict grief by showing the event, having the mourner cry it out, completely traumatized, then describe them on the pathway to healing, Koppleman's portrayal of the grief experience is not like this. Grieving is not interpreted as overblown and dramatic. It is simple and matter of fact. But it's the facts that people have the most trouble facing. Grief does not get better over time but rather you learn to function better. As Koppelman explains, every day you are reminded of the person you lost through the mundane things around you. She asks: “What would Dan think of cell phones?” This sentence hit home for me because my father died in 1984, and with every new technology that comes out, I'm reminded of him: “What would Dad think of laptops? Social media? The internet?” This is truly what grief is all about: Your thoughts on a daily basis. In Koppelman's stream-of-consciousness dialog to Daniel, she writes:
“Things I forgot to ask: I forgot to ask you why you didn't like egg in your fried rice...how it was we began eating potato chips with ketchup, who your favorite Beatle was...”
“Hesitation Wounds” reminds us that life is about the little things. Besides grief, it is about depression and the simpler things most of us take for granted but can cause a person suffering from depression to get completely bogged down by. Every movement, interaction and inner thought becomes a feat of near impossibility, leading to exhaustion. Suze's depression is primarily caused by many years of unresolved grief. Here is how Suze has learned to survive her crippling thoughts of grief:
“I turn away. Memory is like this for me now. I can turn away from it. I repeat this thought out loud, as if the mere act of saying it, like an incantation, will transform the idea into reality. And because it's true. I can do this now.”
She stops and adds:
“Most of the time.”
Because that's how you move forward from grief. You just choose to forget. You don't heal completely, but you learn to live.
Most recent customer reviews
Hesitation Wounds is an unusual, and quite honestly difficult book to read.Read more