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Borderlines: A Memoir

Overview

When Caroline Kraus leaves behind her sheltered, upper-middle-class home in St. Louis for San Francisco following the death of her mother, she is searching for clarity and a fresh perspective to help her escape her mother’s ghost. Instead, in a dreamlike city of beatnik bookstores and coffeehouses, she meets Jane.

Bewitching and free-spirited, Jane offers Caroline the warmth, intuitive understanding, and female companionship she craves, and soon the two women are inseparable. ...

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Borderlines: A Memoir

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Overview

When Caroline Kraus leaves behind her sheltered, upper-middle-class home in St. Louis for San Francisco following the death of her mother, she is searching for clarity and a fresh perspective to help her escape her mother’s ghost. Instead, in a dreamlike city of beatnik bookstores and coffeehouses, she meets Jane.

Bewitching and free-spirited, Jane offers Caroline the warmth, intuitive understanding, and female companionship she craves, and soon the two women are inseparable. But gradually, Caroline discovers that behind the intensity that makes the friendship so intoxicating lies a dangerous, symbiotic stranglehold. As their lives and psyches become evermore intertwined, Jane begins to reveal some disturbing qualities and pulls Caroline further into her troubled depths. And as her subtle manipulations blossom into emotional blackmail, financial ruin, alarming promiscuity, and ultimately, physical aggression, Caroline must fight to regain her sense of self, and her understanding of where Jane ends and she begins.

Mesmerizing and unforgettable, Borderlines is an extraordinary literary debut that offers an unflinching look at the potent dynamics beneath the surface of any intimate relationship—and at the darker side of friendships between women.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Advance Praise for Borderlines

“A riveting memoir that reads like a thriller––complex, wryly funny, and utterly compelling, the author's experience comes vividly to life as she weaves together narratives of past and present, of profound attachment and terrifying loss. Here is a story of a life unraveling; this could be Hitchcock, but the fact that it actually happened intensifies the horror of Kraus's story, and the relief we feel at knowing she survived. Borderlines marks a tremendous debut from a gifted writer.”

—Joyce Maynard, author of At Home in the World, To Die For, and The Usual Rules

“In Borderlines, Caroline Kraus has recreated a fascinating, complicated story of desire, loyalty, and grief. It’s the kind of book that captivates readers and inspires other writers. Don’t waste time reading this endorsement. Open the book and get started. The writing speaks for itself.”
              —Hope Edelman, author of Motherless Daughters

Penny Wolfson
In this first book, Kraus, trained in documentary filmmaking, shows herself to be a perceptive and fluent storyteller, able to relate the panicky flavor of this slippery, disturbing relationship. Her allegiance to the fragile mother she has lost feels profoundly true, as does her deep relationship with the father who always bails her out. With this novel-like memoir, Kraus makes a lovely, promising debut.
The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Less than a year after her mother's death from cancer, recent college grad Kraus packs up and moves from St. Louis to San Francisco, eager to begin an independent life. Working at a Palo Alto bookstore, she meets Jane, another employee who becomes her friend, temporary lover, constant companion and, ultimately, "worst enemy." In her first book, Kraus skillfully delineates the arc of her relationship with Jane, which initially brings love and happiness to the author, who's been grieving and looking for an emotional anchor in her mother's absence. Attractive, charismatic Jane, a few years older than Kraus, listens to her, calls her "Honey" and gives her an "endorphin rush" in the wake of "exclusive attention." Kraus soon learns that Jane cuts herself with razor blades, sucks her thumb and claims to have been sexually molested as a child, yet Kraus remains loyal. When a roommate tells Kraus she thinks Jane has "a strange power over you," Kraus can't see the problem. Even when Jane turns manipulative and hurtful, discards Kraus as a lover, sleeps with other people (women and men) and drives Kraus into debt and her own form of self-mutilation, the author seems to need Jane's love and approval. To her credit, Kraus, who finally frees herself from Jane and goes on to attend film school in New York, tells her gripping tale without indulging in melodrama or portraying herself as a pathetic victim. Although readers may become frustrated by the repeated descriptions of Jane's abusive behavior before Kraus seeks help, this work succeeds in showcasing Kraus's writing talent while exploring a disturbing topic. Agent, Elizabeth Kaplan. (On sale Mar. 1) Forecast: Targeted mailings, online promotions and national media coverage could draw in readers of Girl, Interrupted and other books about the psychology behind women's relationships. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Kraus's memoir of life at 23 is dark, heady, and impossible to put down. Unmoored after her graduation from college and the premature death of her mother, she leaves home for California, hoping to find her bearings. Instead, she ends up lost in San Francisco, trudging through life as a bookstore clerk with a heavy heart. It is there that she meets Jane, a charismatic firecracker of a girl who sparks up her life. Kraus seeks solace in their friendship, but the union slowly turns poisonous as Jane becomes increasingly demanding and possessive, hell-bent on destroying everything in her path. Spellbound by the parasitic but bewitching Jane, Kraus cannot extricate herself from her grip, even as Jane blackmails, abuses, and financially ruins her. With spare writing that reveals complex emotions, this memoir is an enthralling look at how the intimate bonds we forge can sometimes destroy us. Not for the fainthearted, but recommended.-Tania Barnes, "Library Journal" Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-This is the story of a dysfunctional relationship. Shortly after graduating from college, Kraus met Jane upon moving to San Francisco, roomed with her, and soon found the somewhat older woman separating her from friends, family, money, and, finally, sanity. The author had moved west from St. Louis after her mother died, and her fragile mental state from coping with this death played a large part in her susceptibility to Jane's power. The two met at the bookstore where they worked. While at first everyone was enamored with Jane, the other employees, as well as Kraus's friends, soon began warning her of the woman's strangely manipulative behavior. While Kraus barely dated, Jane took several lovers of both sexes and often played them off one another and Kraus. As she gradually became aware of the way she was being dragged down, the author was able to claw her way back to reality. Through it all, many common elements of young adult literature appear-cutting, sexual identity, the loss of parents, and sibling rivalry. The memoir jumps around quite a bit at first, which is distracting, but the pieces unfold and rejoin to give readers a more thorough understanding of how an obviously intelligent woman could allow herself to be so taken advantage of.-Jamie Watson, Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimore Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Disturbing first-person account of one young woman's emotional captivity by another. Kraus was 23, grieving for her mother who had just died of cancer, and alone in a new city when she met Jane, a pretty, amusing young woman who seemed to offer empathy and camaraderie. Both worked at a bookstore in San Francisco, where Kraus, a recent college graduate from the Midwest, was planning to study screenwriting at Stanford. Within short order, the co-workers became fast friends and then roommates and then more. Gradually, Kraus's life was taken over by Jane, her plans for graduate work put aside. Jane, manipulative and seductive, alternating between sweetness and cruelty, seemed to need Kraus's love and support, and Kraus gave both generously. The inheritance her mother left her was wiped out and credit-card debt mounted as Kraus willingly supported them both. While the author's father, brother, and sister became alarmed by the unhealthy relationship developing between the two women, and her psychiatrist tried to open her eyes to the source of her need for Jane, the warning signs that Jane was bad news passed by Kraus undetected. Promiscuity, shoplifting, stealing cash at work, gratuitous lies, emotional blackmail, and physical violence were par for the course for Jane, yet through the strife, Kraus says, were times of great happiness, affection, sharing, and fun. It was only when Kraus heard an NPR documentary on borderline personality disorder that she recognized that she had become deeply entangled with a seriously disturbed individual and that she herself was slipping into Jane's world. Once able to see Jane clearly, Kraus made her escape, fleeing San Francisco. That her freedom was onlytemporary is a shock, for Jane was welcomed back when she reappeared in Kraus's life a couple of years later. When they parted for the second time, it was because, Kraus says, she had learned to value her own needs over Jane's. A vivid portrait of a complex relationship, as gripping, at times, as a good thriller. Agent: Elizabeth Kaplan
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780767914284
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/8/2005
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 5.52 (w) x 8.53 (h) x 0.81 (d)

Meet the Author

36-year-old CAROLINE KRAUS graduated with a bachelor’s degree from William and Mary and, shortly afterward, moved to San Francisco, where she was a bookseller and author event photographer. When she returned to the east coast, she earned a Master’s in screen writing and film editing at the New School and worked as a documentary film researcher. She spent summers at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, where her first fiction and non-fiction stories were born. Most recently, she was the managing editor of a berkeley-based neuroscience publication called brainconnection.com, and the Senior Arts and Science Editor for Encyclopedia Britannica in Chicago. She lives in Evanston, IL.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter

one

Morning light edged over the horizon as I awoke to the sound of low, urgent moans coming from Jane's room. San Francisco emerged from the night, glistening before me in shades of white, and Jane's howls of pleasure rose with the sun. Below my window, furtive whistles called across Dolores Park, hawking drugs, while Jane's muted laughter filtered through the wall that divided our rooms. I fixed my eyes on the distant Bay Bridge and imagined driving across it for good, soaring east as far as the Atlantic. I imagined a new life in a quiet, charming town she could not find, where I would become stable minded and marry a tall, sensitive man. We would have children and dogs. And money--we would never worry about money. I touched a purple gash above my eye, still raw and wet, and as if to comfort me, Jane knocked three times on the wall. I pulled a pillow over my head, pressed my knees to my chin, and willed the world away.

A few hours later, Jane stood naked in my doorway with a sly smile spreading across her face. I blinked at her perfect silhouette from the cave I'd built with my pillows and waved a small hello. She absently slipped her thumb into her mouth and blinked back at me with warm, curious eyes. Climbing into my bed, she drew my arms around her, squirming like a puppy for the perfect spot. With shallow breaths she sucked her thumb and waited for me to ask about her night.

I said nothing. We lay there in silence, cautious, in the aftermath of battle. I knew Jane was already returning to the fantasy of our strange, platonic marriage, and I was once again exhausted and anxious, awaiting the next disaster.

"Did someone say pancakes?" she asked in a small voice.

I held my breath. She waited.

"Or . . . was it waffles?" she whispered hopefully.

I swallowed hard.

"Honey?" Jane's thumb paused between her lips. She tilted her head to look at me. I met her blue eyes as they narrowed and searched me for clues. Soon she would read my silence, and her sweetness would turn to rage. But I could not speak. November was freezing the air outside, stasis before the spring. And I was dormant, too, stilled by Jane and her stare, frozen by my own inertia; paralyzed by the impossibility of escape.

It was close to Christmas then, which meant that soon my family would be gathering in St. Louis. My father and sister would be dressing the house with greens, a tree, and our beloved Santa, who swings in a hot-air balloon and sings "Fly Me to the Moon." They would recline by the fire, talking medicine, or putter in the kitchen with opera filling the house. My brother would fly in from Washington, D.C., loaded with presents and stories from Capitol Hill, and he'd head straight to the market to buy bagels, yogurt, and five cartons of eggnog, all of which my father would discover sometime in February. My parents' friends would stop by with food and gifts and report on their children, who, I felt sure, were either getting married, having children, or working their way up ladders of success.

And then there was the Void. The Void would envelop this routine, would dull all of the holiday smells and sounds. It would be what was left of our mother, who had died two years before. It would sit across from my father at the dinner table, stroll our gardens, and sleep fitfully on the sofa. I knew this presence well; it was as strong, devastating, and vivid as was my mother's living self.

When I left Jane that morning, I was late to meet a psychiatrist--a woman Jane had found--and I was circling her house when it dawned on me that the wet sensation creeping down my neck might be blood. I touched the spot, and my fingers came back red and sticky. I lifted my jaw to the rearview mirror and turned my head, keeping one eye on the narrow road. Old, economical cars lined the quiet, residential street. This was Berkeley, 1992. In those days, riding in a big Republican car was asking for trouble.

It was a cold, washed-out November, and I was sick. I had gotten used to it, to feeling like I had the flu all the time, but I wasn't used to the cold. The chill followed me everywhere. It hung near me at work, trailed me home, and crawled under my bed covers at night. It didn't seem to bother other people, but I was shivering in my car that morning, even with the heat roaring full blast.

I felt the back of my head again and found the soft welt just above the base of my neck, seeping red on blond. I must have awakened it with my hairbrush, trying to look presentable. I turned the mirror away and cursed. So much for first impressions.

I kept circling the psychiatrist's house; there was nowhere to park. In all of Berkeley there was never anywhere to park, but this once I was happy to delay my arrival. Along with the blood, which had just found my shirt collar, the welt above my left eye was ripe with fall colors. I was on my third cigarette in as many minutes, and I had nothing but my hand to stop the bleeding. I figured I wouldn't have to say a word when I met Francine; she'd probably take one look at me and pull out her prescription pad.

I paused in front of her house, and then, as if witnessing one of those comets that appears only once in a lifetime, I watched a car pull out of a spot and drive away. I was known to risk lives to claim such a spot. Like a heat-seeking missile, I would accelerate across three lanes of traffic--pedestrians be damned--then slip my Celica neatly between bumpers with a finger's width to spare. This skill had developed over time, after night upon endless night of closing up the bookstore where Jane and I worked, turning away the midnight shoppers, and driving home across the Bay Bridge together, only to search San Francisco's deserted, car-lined streets in vain, with the moon smiling upon our rootless hunt. Eventually I started pulling my car up on the grassy median right in front of our building, leaving it for the parking police to laugh at in the morning. Jane left them notes of explanation, written carefully, eloquently, during the drive home. I stored them in my top desk drawer, next to the piles of tickets I could not pay.

I stared at the open spot, put on my blinker, and smoked. I could either take the bridge back to San Francisco and clean myself up, or park. The first scenario had a lot going for it, except that Jane might be home, and returning bloody, even from an old wound, would just get her going. Then again, part of me suspected that she was somewhere close, hiding in the bushes maybe, watching to make sure I went in.

I took the spot. I waited there and studied Francine's house--a small brown shingled cottage with lights glowing yellow in the foggy air--and wondered who awaited me. I didn't know much about her, just that she had written a book on Eastern philosophy that Jane liked, and on the book flap Jane saw she was a therapist living in Berkeley. The next thing I knew, I was scheduled for an appointment.

I threw mints in my mouth and rubbed lotion on my hands to hide the cigarette smell. The front door of the house opened, and I slid down in my seat. A woman picked up a newspaper from her porch and waved it in my direction. She was tiny, no taller than a child, with long white hair tucked behind her ears. Even from my distance I could see deep crevices carved into her narrow face. She looked to be a hundred years old.

"Coming in?" she yelled.

I sank farther into my seat and pulled sunglasses down from the top of my head. Francine stood on her porch and opened the paper, peering at me over the headlines.

Damn. I wanted another cigarette.

I tried to smile as I hid my stained hand and crossed the street to meet her.

"Caroline," she said. "Hello." Her lips drew back into a lopsided smile, showing long, crooked teeth. Everything about her was crooked--her nose, her chin, her fingers--even her glance.

I extended a clean left hand to her right and felt like a giant as she switched hands, reached up, and gave me a firm shake.

"May I use your bathroom?" I asked.

"Okay," she said, drawing out the word. She peered behind my back.

Inside it was warm, and a fire was making loud cracking sounds in a small living room off the front hall. I thought right away of a hobbit's house, with its small, dimly lit rooms, knitted afghans draped over chairs and sofas, and ancient, wooden furniture cluttered about. For that matter, Francine looked like a wise old hobbit herself, with that long white hair, creased face, and shuffling gait. I had to laugh. Leave it to Jane to find me a hobbit shrink.

I made quick use of her bathroom, which also seemed strangely miniaturized. After rubbing tiny shell-shaped soaps against the back of my head and rinsing away the blood, I lowered my sunglasses. I emerged from the bathroom and felt my way through the shadowy kitchen and study, arriving in the living room, where Francine sat by the fire, reading the newspaper. She pointed to a small brown sofa across from her. The room smelled of burning oak, and I removed my coat cautiously, welcoming the heat.

"I'll let it go this time," she said, dropping the paper as I took my seat. "You are supposed to be here at ten."

My watch read almost eleven. I stood to go.

"I said I'll let it go," Francine repeated. She pushed rimless bifocals up on her forehead like a pair of headlights. There was not a clock to be seen in the room or even a watch on Francine's wrist. Maybe she told time by the sun.

I sat down and found my ballpoint pen with the top that clicks. I had developed a habit of clicking that pen whenever I felt nervous. I never left home without it.

"So," Francine began.

"So," I repeated.

She watched me for a minute, then said, "Why don't you start."

"That's okay," I said. "You start."

A smile rose and fell like a sigh across her face. "Well, you have the advantage over me," she said. "Only you know why you are here."

"I'm here because Jane called you," I said. "It's her idea. Didn't she tell you something?"

"She said you've been . . . not yourself lately. I think that's how she put it."

"Not myself," I repeated.

There was a big canvas pillow by the fire and a half-chewed bone on top of it. By the size of the bone, I figured the dog must be big, and I wondered how a big dog would fit into such a tiny house.

Lately. That part made me chuckle.

Francine followed my eyes to the dog bed.

Whatever. Jane would have probably said I was cracking up, and that cracking up, along with a few other things, ran in my family, so Francine should be on the lookout. Jane had read a lot about ailments, and she had diagnosed me with one thing or another just about every month. Earlier in the year she had thought I had digestive problems, and before that I was anemic. I withstood acupuncture, boiled herbs, and weeks of chard, kale, liver, and collard greens before Jane resorted to a shrink.

"What's with the pen?" Francine asked. I had been clicking, and stopped.

"It's comforting," I said, surprised by my own honesty.

Francine paused. "Well then, click away," she said. Her right hand was shaking, and she anchored it in her lap. "So. Jane also said that your mother died."

I clicked faster and looked right at Francine. "Yep."

"When?"

I turned my eyes to the ceiling and stalled. The further away I got from the day, the more I hated that question.

It's not that I couldn't have answered. I could have recited the day, hour, and minute that my mother died. I could have described the eerie order of my parents' bedroom, Dad leaving for his morning run, and the sheer cotton nightgown Mom wore, damp with sweat. Had Francine wanted me to gauge the angle of Mom's head, I could have told it. Or the quality of light? Pale dawn. The world had been silent around us that morning, until my mother began to fight for air and I started to scream.

"Where is your dog?" I asked.

"She's out back."

"What kind?"

"Springer spaniel mixed with something. Her name is Sherry." Francine stifled a yawn, and for a second I thought she might return to her newspaper. "What's with the sunglasses?" she asked.

I should have known that sunglasses always give you away, especially when there is no sun. I removed them.

"Oh," Francine said.

I felt my whole body tighten and seal like Fort Knox.

Jane and I had been passing each other in the hall of our apartment after it happened. She saw the cut and bruise above my eye and stopped, pressing me against the wall to look closer. Her expression had been polite incomprehension at first, followed by fear.

"What the fuck is that?" she'd demanded.

I turned away, even though I had wanted her to see it, to see it, finally, in Technicolor. I had hoped my face would speak for itself, but in that moment, as if dropped without a parachute into reality, I realized I'd crossed a bad line. I had entered Jane territory.

She gave me a cutting, dismissive laugh and then went to run a bath.

I followed her.

"I'm not feeling right," I admitted.

The bathroom door closed in my face.

"It won't happen again--"

Jane opened the door. Steam flooded behind her.

"Do you really think I believe that?" she asked. "Do you think I'm blind? Stupid? Look at who you're talking to." She shut the door, then opened it to finish a thought. "You are way out of your league," she added. "Only a novice would do it so it shows." Then she closed the door again.

I waited with my ear to the door.

"I've been thinking . . . maybe I should go, Jane," I said. "I'm not--"

I heard the water shut off.

"Jane?"

I waited.

The door flew open, smashed into my face, and knocked me down. Jane came out swinging. She was on top of me before I could speak, hands around my neck and knees on my chest. Her expression was frozen in terror, eyes wide, teeth bared. The back of my head hit the floor, and the skin split just enough to make me yelp.

I froze beneath her, completely still. She released her grip and stood, disgusted.

From the Hardcover edition.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 9, 2004

    Writing really flows - unique and enjoyable memoir

    I really enjoyed Caroline Krauss' 'Borderlines: A Memoir' because it was so well written. The words just flowed from one page to the next and I had trouble putting it down! The account of Jane and Caroline's blurred and somewhat undefinable relationship was gripping. I was really cheering for Caroline in the end and wanting her to survive the circumstances she had found herself in with Jane. It was also very interesting to learn about Borderline Personality Disorder - something I had heard of but knew little about beforehand. I highly recommend this book - Bravo Krauss!

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