Keeping Up the Act

You've heard of hypochondria? And cyberchondria? Susanna Kaysen's memoir Girl, Interrupted caused me to catch a wicked case of bibliochondria.  The book is so brilliantly written, I couldn't help momentarily wondering, "Hmmm, I can totally relate with what she's saying.  Am I a borderline personality?"  Now, before you go committing me, hear what I'm saying.  My bibliochondria resulted from Kaysen's amazingly articulate prose and not my own mental illness I hope.  Throughout the work, Kaysen presents for the reader exactly how fine the line can be between metal stability and instability.  And simply stated, I loved it.  I fell in love with Susanna as a flawed and totally relatable young woman.

Here's a taste of what made me love her.
But I wasn't simply going nuts, tumbling down a shaft into Wonderland. It was my misfortune - or salvation - to be at all times perfectly conscious of my misperceptions of reality.  I never "believed" anything I saw or thought I saw.  Not only that, I correctly understood each new weird activity.
Now, I would say to myself, you are feeling alienated from people and unlike other people, therefore you are projecting your discomfort onto them.  When you look at a face, you see a blob of rubber because you are worried that your face is a blob of rubber.
This clarity made me able to behave normally, which posed some interesting questions. Was everybody seeing this stuff and acting as though they weren't? Was insanity just a matter of dropping the act? If some people didn't see these things, what was the matter with them? Were they blind or something? These questions had me unsettled.
The inclusion of Kaysen's medical records was clever and a very useful literary technique.  For me, they helped to keep my perceptions of the narrator in check.  Just when I would trust her perspective completely her medical records would give me pause.  After all, none of us has a completely accurate view of ourselves.  The records provided an extra layer of play in my interpretation of the truth of Kaysen's situation.  Ultimately, for me as a reader, neither Kaysen's point of view nor the medical records could be relied on as absolute truth.  Instead, I came away believing the truth to be found somewhere in between. (Come on, you know I love a little ambiguity!!!)

Of course before reading page one of the book I made plans to rewatch the film once I had finished.  I saw the film years ago and remembered really liking it a lot.  So much so, in fact, I was worried the book wouldn't hold up.  Boy was I wrong.  After seeing the film for the second time, I can confidently say the book is far superior in my opinion.

What I loved about Kaysen's book is that I was able to read through Susanna's recovery.  The book wound down as she found her way back to the world outside.  Page after page it became clear how Kaysen, as a women, went from being an institutionalized teenager to an accomplished, successful author.  The film on the other hand ends with dramatic Hollywood hoopla.  Lisa is chasing Susanna through the bowels of their hospital and ends up in restraints.  We're given a scene awfully reminiscent of the boiler room scene in Heathers if you ask me.  All that bru ha ha was pure nonsense in my opinion and had nothing to do with the story Kaysen's memoir attempted to tell.  I also found Ryder's Susanna to be angrier and less appealing than the one I read in the book.  This made sense however once I watched the bonus features on the DVD.  Apparently the screenwriter created a Susanna that was an amalgamation of the Susanna in the book and Ryder herself.  That, for me, accounts for the disconnect I felt between the onscreen and literary Susannas. Though many of the book's incidents and even dialogue found their way into the screenplay, the tone of the film was heavier and far less witty than Kaysen's book.

My favorite part of the book was one of the final chapters entitled, "Mind vs. Brain."  I believe it is the most clearly written explanation of the experience of mental instability I have ever encountered. It is a chapter which could have only been written by a woman who has seen both sides of that fine line mentioned earlier. Dripping with Kaysen's wry sense of humor, this chapter convinced me of the book and its author's brilliance.  It also served as a cure for my bibliochondriatic case of borderline personality disorder.  I am now quite certain that I am as sane as the next person.  Unless the next person is Charlie Sheen.  

I read Girl, Interrupted because I am a loyal member of The Book Club Bloggers.  To read other reviews or join in the fun (I'm talking to you Lindsey) visit our hostess Charlotte at The Daily Snapshot.  

Thanks to Laura at Every Path for choosing Girl, Interrupted.