- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
From Barnes & NobleWith startling clarity and honesty, Susanna Kaysen is able to recreate the terrible confusion of her institutionalized years: her feelings of depression and hopelessness; her obsession with the patterns found in things like rugs, tiled floors, and curtains; and her increasing disconnection from reality. But at the same time she examines the circumstances of her admittance to McLean. She contrasts her own account of that day with the doctor's, raising questions about each of their stories. And in the end, Kaysen can offer no definite answer as to whether or not she really did belong in that hospital. To her, it is all a matter of whose story you believe: "That doctor says he interviewed me for three hours. I say it was twenty minutes... We can't both be right. Does it matter which of us is right?" The paradox that makes GIRL, INTERRUPTED so astonishing is that Kaysen often doesn't seem sure of her own version. The girl, interrupted, has become a woman, searching -- for the true narrative of her own life.
The unsentimental depiction of the psychiatric hospital and the people in it is another strength of GIRL, INTERRUPTED. Kaysen paints searing portraits of the other young women on her ward -- Lisa, the sociopath; Polly, who set herself on fire and was left with a permanently deformed face; Daisy, who hoarded chicken carcasses under her bed. Naturally, Kaysen got to know her fellow patients and no doubt felt some kind of unspoken bond with them, but at no time does she allow herself or her audience to forget that the setting of her memoir is a mental hospital, and the patients there are very seriously ill. In contrast, at times throughout the movie adaptation, it is hard to tell if the girls are in a psychiatric hospital or a boarding school. In Kaysen's McLean Hospital, there was real sickness, and although the patients sometimes dealt with this sickness with humor and some compassion toward each other, there was no late-night bowling and girl-power bonding as seen in the recent film adaptation.
GIRL, INTERRUPTED offers few conclusions and puts forward few definitive statements. Instead, and more enticingly, it raises many questions: Was Susanna Kaysen crazy? Was she the unfortunate victim of a faulty system? If she wasn't crazy to begin with, did she go crazy while she was in the hospital? Kaysen is clearly grasping for the answers to these questions, too. The tension created by this uncertainty is part of what makes the audio so engrossing and unforgettable. Kaysen's reading gives this powerful audiobook an added dimension. Lacking the smoothness of a professional, Kaysen reads with the emotional turbulence of a person who has lived through the events but is still looking for a clear interpretation of them. At times her narration is choppy, and at other times her voice is more confident, even challenging, and I preferred this variability, which seems natural and unaffected, to the polished, distanced performance of a veteran reader.
But there is one point in which it is clear that she has come to terms with her past and, perhaps, has settled some of her own questions. It comes at the end of her narrative and is one of the lasting and haunting impressions left by the audio. Kaysen describes how, at seventeen, she came across a Vermeer painting and had an unnerving feeling that the girl in the painting "was warning me of something -- she had looked up from her work to warn me." Returning to the same painting sixteen years later, the girl only looks sad, and for the first time Kaysen notices the name of the work: "Girl Interrupted at Her Music." "Interrupted at her music: as my life had been, interrupted in the music of being seventeen, as her life had been, snatched and fixed on canvas: one moment made to stand still and to stand for all the other moments, whatever they would be or might have been." The fact that Kaysen never illuminates whether the interruption occurred in her own mind or in the psychiatrist's office where her fate was sealed is particularly poignant and reveals the ultimate significance of GIRL, INTERRUPTED.