I was excited to read Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen. Call me morbid, but I find tales of psyches going down the tubes fascinating. In terms of questioning the human condition, insanity provides more than enough fodder for probing the hidden structures of the mind. The brain is horribly complex, astounding in its capabilities, and largely unexplored and unused. It’s no wonder I knew so many psychology majors in college.
And so when insanity enters the picture—when the mind turns on itself—it’s no surprise we are instantly fascinated. Add to that a healthy level of schadenfreude (thank God this isn’t happening to me), and thus the fascination with the life of Sylvia Plath and the popularity of Girl, Interrupted.
Upon first opening the book, I realized Girl, Interrupted was a memoir. Unlike The Bell Jar—an autobiographical, but still fictional, account of Plath’s life—Kaysen speaks frankly and simply of her experiences at the same mental institution that once housed, you guessed it, Ms. Plath. She includes her medical records, nurse observation forms, and her entrance and exit records. And yet, the book eventually moves beyond Kaysen to encompass all the girls in her ward; their stories, their suicide attempts, their problems. She talks about their nurses, and the domestic unrest that followed each shift change. She talks about losing your privacy with half-hour, fifteen-minute, and five-minute checks. She talks about how long it took for girls to have sex during these precious minutes of freedom.
But Kaysen also talks about herself, and why she ended up committing herself. So much of Girl, Interrupted is Kaysen’s attempt to understand that question herself, as the answer becomes more unclear with each passing page. Yes, she tried to commit suicide. Yes, she felt depressed. Yes, she chose not to attend college and had plenty of promiscuous sex. But throughout it all, I felt Kaysen kept a presence of mind unlike what I would expect of a “crazy” person. Her official diagnosis turns out to be a “personality disorder,” but the way Kaysen describes her experiences, I felt “insanity” was something anyone could catch, like a cold. We like to imagine that insanity it about chemical unbalances, or a disturbed upbringing. Nature and nuture. But Kaysen describes sanity as balancing on the edge of a knife—one wrong step could send anyone careening down to the murky depths below.
I would have enjoyed reading more of this analysis, however around page 118, my copy of Girl, Interrupted cut out. Apparently, someone at Random House re-printed 30 random pages from the beginning of the book where pages 118-154 shoud have gone. When I told Joel about this, he looked at me like I was stupid: “You’re reading Girl, Interrupted and you were just interrupted. Duh Laura.” However, after a bit of Google searching, I think I received a faulty copy. This pissed me off, because I was in the middle of the chapter “My Diagnosis,” and thus the climatic explanation I had been waiting for was botched. Damn. Not cool, Random House.
Overall, though, Girl, Interrupted was an excellent read. It’s short (I read it in a little under two days), and so I can’t foresee this being a problem with even the most casual reader. Plus, afterwards you can watch the movie starring Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie. Talk about crazy chicks.