Rat Girl: A Memoir

Rat Girl: A Memoir

4.2 14
by Kristin Hersh
     
 

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The founder of a cult rock band shares her outrageous tale of growing up much faster than planned.

In 1985, Kristin Hersh was just starting to find her place in the world. After leaving home at the age of fifteen, the precocious child of unconventional hippies had enrolled in college while her band, Throwing Muses, was getting off the ground amid rumors of

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Overview

The founder of a cult rock band shares her outrageous tale of growing up much faster than planned.

In 1985, Kristin Hersh was just starting to find her place in the world. After leaving home at the age of fifteen, the precocious child of unconventional hippies had enrolled in college while her band, Throwing Muses, was getting off the ground amid rumors of a major label deal. Then everything changed: she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and found herself in an emotional tailspin; she started medication, but then discovered she was pregnant. An intensely personal and moving account of that pivotal year, Rat Girl is sure to be greeted eagerly by Hersh's many fans.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this rambling and unremarkable journal of the year 1985-1986 in the life of an 18-year-old musician in Providence, R.I., Hersh tells of her coping with the sensory-overload of manic-depression and pregnancy. The daughter of divorced hippie intellectuals, raised in Georgia, Hersh crashed in a messy, rat-infested house of painters, attended classes at a Catholic college where her philosophy professor father (called Dude) taught, and fronted the rock band Throwing Muses. Young Hersh was shy and a little too squeaky clean for some of the grungy venues the band played; her unlikely best friend at school was the older movie star Betty Hutton, "a warm heart in a cold world," who had returned to school for a master's degree, and often drew on her famous life story for cautionary lessons. Hersh began having perception difficulties on stage, first because she refused to wear her glasses; she then started having visions that involved snakes and colorful sounds. These manic episodes were finally diagnosed by mental health professionals as evidence of bipolar disorder. On lithium, Hersh grew shaky and bloated; her band pushed to move to Boston, with hopes of recording. Hersh unexpectedly became pregnant and had to face grownup concerns way before she was ready, which she chronicles in flat, sophomoric prose. (Sept.)
From the Publisher
Rat Girl is the story of a wide-eyed soul coming to maturity in the ridiculous cacophony of modern life. Although it is supposedly about what we call, for lack of a better term, 'manic depression,' it has nearly no interest in such grim diagnostic thinking. It is instead awestruck - by music, feeling, perception, wild animals, mystery, dreams, 'the gorgeous and terrible things that live in your house.' It is an original beauty.” – Mary Gaitskill, author of Veronica and Don't Cry

“Sensitive and emotionally raw… it is also wildly funny.” – Rob Sheffield, New York Times Book Review 

“Funny, freaky, fidgety, Hersh's memoir is the book a fan didn't dare hope for: a beacon in a dark field, illuminating the mysterious and the mundane. Beautifully, honestly, written and as close as you will ever get to being in a Throwing Muses song.” – Wesley Stace, author of Misfortune and By George

#8 on Rolling Stone’s list of The 25 Greatest Rock Memoirs of All Time

“Her narrative voice is warm, friendly and surprisingly funny. Deep down it's a story about messed-up kids finding one other, starting a band, and accidentally scrounging up an audience of similarly messed-up kids. It belongs on the shelf next to Michael Azerrad's classic Our Band Could Be Your Life.” – Rolling Stone

“Ultra-vivid writing and intense honesty is what you'd expect from Kristin Hersh, one of America's finest songwriters. But Rat Girl is also a startlingly funny and touching memoir of her mid-Eighties moment as the bi- polar, pregnant, intermittently homeless frontwoman of a rising indie-rock band. It's a gripping journey into mental chaos and out the other side.” – Simon Reynolds, author of Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-84

Kirkus Reviews

Funny, quirky coming-of-age story from a unique musical artist.

For her first work of nonfiction, Hersh (Toby Snax, 2007), best known as founder and principal songwriter of art-rock band Throwing Muses, revisited the journal she kept from the winter of 1985 through the spring of 1986, when her band made the critical decision to leave provincial Rhode Island and join Boston's thriving music scene. It was a monumental year for Hersh personally, as well. At 18, she was a bit of an oddball. Hit by a car some years before, she started hearing—and seeing—music that she felt compelled to get out of her head and into the world. Other eccentricities may have preceded the accident: her dislike of being indoors, her refusal to wear glasses or lenses during shows so as not to make eye contact with her audiences, her need to swim in any available pool, with or without the permission of the owner. In the summer of 1985, Hersh suffered a frightening breakdown and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Refreshingly, though the book is not the kind of memoir that lingers in angst, perhaps because Hersh prefers to keep her delightfully childlike focus outward. Drawn to other outsiders, she had become close friends with one of her college-professor father's favorite students, the former movie star Betty Hutton, who, then in her 60s, had become a devout Catholic and had nominally renounced her Hollywood past. One of the narrative's many charms is Hersh's apparently effortless, razor-sharp portraiture of the diverse characters in her life: Hutton; her former-hippie parents; her bandmates; a parade of music journalists, an Indian psychiatrist (Dr. Seven Syllables, she names him) who helped her navigate her illness without medication upon learning she was pregnant by an unnamed lover; the British record-label owner and his producer who took great pains to get her genius on tape.

A thoroughly engrossing work by an original voice—hopefully the first of many.

Rob Sheffield
Rat Girl is sensitive and emotionally raw, which figures; it's also wildly funny, which didn't figure at all, since the Muses were never big on humor…Hersh's memories of her long-suffering bandmates help make Rat Girl an uncommonly touching punk memoir…Like Michael Azerrad's classic Our Band Could Be Your Life, Rat Girl reveals the inspiring camaraderie at the heart of '80s indie rock.
—The New York Times
Juliet Wittman
…fascinating…[Hersh] is a fine writer with an eye for the detail, and her memoir combines a child's spontaneity with a mature artist's understanding.
—The Washington Post

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780143117391
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
08/31/2010
Pages:
336
Sales rank:
262,093
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
“Ultra-vivid writing and intense honesty is what you'd expect from Kristin Hersh, one of America's finest songwriters. But Rat Girl is also a startlingly funny and touching memoir of her mid-Eighties moment as the bi- polar, pregnant, intermittently homeless frontwoman of a rising indie-rock band. It's a gripping journey into mental chaos and out the other side.” – Simon Reynolds, author of Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-84

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