4.1 16
by Leora Skolkin-Smith

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Set in the turbulent 1970s when Patty Hearst became Tanya the Revolutionary, HYSTERA is a timeless story of madness, yearning, and identity. After a fatal accident takes her father away, Lillian Weill blames herself for the family tragedy. Tripping through failed love affairs with men and doomed friendships, all Lilly wants is to be sheltered from reality. She… See more details below


Set in the turbulent 1970s when Patty Hearst became Tanya the Revolutionary, HYSTERA is a timeless story of madness, yearning, and identity. After a fatal accident takes her father away, Lillian Weill blames herself for the family tragedy. Tripping through failed love affairs with men and doomed friendships, all Lilly wants is to be sheltered from reality. She retreats from the outside world into a world of delusion and the private terrors of a New York City Psychiatric Hospital.

How do we know who we really are? How do we find our true selves under the heavy burden of family and our pasts? In an unpredictable portrait of mental illness, HYSTERA penetrates to the pulsing heart of the questions.


Editorial Reviews

Robert Whitcomb
Leora Skolkin-Smith's new novel, "Hystera," provides a very vivid sense of being in the head of someone having a psychotic breakdown, and is a powerfully useful reference book for dealing with the mental-health system. It also pungently evokes the gritty New York of the '70s.
The Providence Journal
Large-Hearted Boy Reviews
Leora Skolkin-Smith's novel Hystera is an unforgettable story of mental illness. Set in the New York City of the 1970s, the book is told in precise language that sears the characters into your consciousness.
Publishers Weekly
Lillian Weill, a student and spiritual alchemist in 1970s New York City, is haunted by the trauma of her father's strokes, which left him permanently brain-damaged. Having not come to her father's aid, Lillian feels partially responsible. The novel's action dips in and out of the past, but focuses mainly on the events leading up to Lilly's own hospitalization. Lost in her world of delusion, readers are bombarded with a redundancy of images; her father's accident and memories of her overbearing, Israeli mother are dredged up too often, and Skolkin-Smith (The Fragile Mistress) is constantly rephrasing the extent of Lilly's psychosis. Though many of Skolkin-Smith's sentences are poetic, strange, and evocative, the action is hard to believe and the characters lack depth. As in a Romantic novel where ladies faint due to the slightest provocation and die from ennui, Lilly's maladies are hyperbolic, wide ranging, and hard to name. While the symptoms of psychosis are multivalent, the unexplained manifestations of a pre-feminist "hysteria"-which, as the author points out, is Greek for "the wandering uterus"-strain the story's verisimilitude. At best, the book is a poignant prose poem, testing the limits of the reader's associations as the narrative spirals inward, but eventually burns out.
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I found Hystera to be a very unique reading experience. It's not a book that will appeal to everyone and in fact I think will be ideal for a very small, select audience. For myself I found the book to be intriguing in many ways but I have to admit it was not really my cup of tea although I do see where it will have it's place and reading audience. I think the individual that will enjoy this work will be interested immediately by the description.
Hystera is a truly unique, painfully honest portrayal of one young woman's battle with intimacy and ultimately, acceptance of one's actions. Told directly by the patient herself, the reader gets a front row view of an incredibly sick and damaged young woman. The path she takes to recovery is an incredibly rewarding one, a story that will be long savored in my soul. This is a book that I feel won't be understood and appreciated by all, but one that affected me like no other. Highly recommended.
Amal Chabaan
Someone once said that literature is either weighty and wise or intertesting and captivating. Skolkin-Smith puts this to rest in HYSTERA. Lilly is a student in the 1970's at Sarah Lawrence College who experiences her life slip away from her in short mental breaks. One night she swallows too many pills mixed with alcohol and then checks herself into the psychiatric ward at the state hospital. What follows there is a collage of sights, feelings and sounds as Lilly attempts to both fit in with the patient yet keep some part of herself essentially separate. Lilly parents are both alive and the mother figures very heavily in her illness though it is only hinted at until Lilly is unable to avoid her at random meetings. As Lilly journeys (sometimes very unwillingly) back to a healthy state, she alternates between fear of herself, fear of her body that strangely border on paranoid regarding others' intention towards her ad a stubborn belief that she deserves punishment for a tragic occurrence many years prior. This book is a tragically beautiful reminder of how fragile mental health really is.
The House of Seven Tails
Leora Skolkin-Smith has written a fascinating novel about one woman's descent into mental illness and her struggle to feel whole. This is a haunting and poignant look at Lilly's struggles. My heart went out to Lilly and I would have liked to know her better but the nature of her illness and this book makes that understandably impossible. I felt a range of emotions while reading this book and I, ultimately, rooted for Lilly to find herself and the feeling of security she longs for. I haven't read many books about mental illness but Hystera has piqued my interest in reading some other books about struggling with mental illness and madness. I recommend this book to anyone interested in mental illness and people fighting to overcome it.

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Story Plant, The
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5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.60(d)

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What People are saying about this

Carolyn Johnson-Howard
Some might say all writers of fiction are a bit crazy. The statement may hold some truth if we note how much we like to follow the creative paths of fellow writers. I admit to being one of those. Leora Skolkin-Smith's "Hystera" does not disappoint on that count. But it offers so much more.

Like most literary novels, it reads as if details are strongly influenced by real memories. Real as they feel, the narrator has committed herself to a psychiatric ward, so she is not a reliable source for judging reality. The lush, and somehow still subtle allusions to sex and body and her own past experiences, leave us not quite sure what conclusions the author intended the reader to make. Even an occasional syntax oddity ("Helen never explained why she stopped going back to her old house in Jerusalem, taking Lilly with her, but only that she could no longer recognize the places of her youth there anymore by 1960."), leaves us with uncertainty, similar—surely—to what the protagonist is going through.

Even descriptions about the protagonist's mother's preoccupation with the ancient craft of book binding is imbued with mystery. The subjects of this binding are written in ancient Hebrew and Aramaic texts and "Alchemical symbols" are the subjects this refurbishing is intended to preserve.

At it's root, "Hystera" is a story about shame, shame that lurks in the recesses of our psyches, shame imposed on us by parents, culture, and ourselves. A Universal Shame. Puritannical as well as Hebraic. Guilt no one generation, race, or religion can lay claim to.

I loved this book because it was about a writer, of course. But I also loved it because of the writing itself—the amazing techniques that can be observed—learned from—if the reader doesn't get too caught up in the forward motion of the story and the tone of the book not to pay attention.

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