In 1967, after a session with a psychiatrist she'd never seen before, eighteen-year-old Susanna Kaysen was put in a taxi and sent to McLean Hospital. She spent most of the next two years in the ward for teenage girls in a psychiatric hospital as renowned for its famous clientele—Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell, James Taylor, and Ray Charles—as for its progressive methods of treating those who could afford its sanctuary.
Kaysen's memoir encompasses horror and razor-edged perception while providing vivid portraits of her fellow patients and their keepers. It is a brilliant evocation of a "parallel universe" set within the kaleidoscopically shifting landscape of the late sixties. Girl, Interrupted is a clear-sighted, unflinching document that gives lasting and specific dimension to our definitions of sane and insane, mental illness and recovery.
and mutterings and tears when they were around. Consequently, they learned nothing about psychiatric nursing. When they finished their rotation, all they took with them were improved versions of us, halfway between our miserable selves and the normality we saw embodied in them. For some of us, this was the closest we would ever come to a cure. As soon as they left, things went quickly back to worse than usual, and the real nurses had their hands full. Thus, our keepers. As for finders—well, we
Georgina observed. Down at the end of the hall, muffled booming and yelling and crashing came out of the seclusion room. The next day as we sat on the floor under the blackboard Alice was marched past us between two nurses on her way to maximum security. Her face was puffy from crying and bashing around. She didn’t look at us. She was occupied by her own complicated thoughts—you could tell from the way she was squinting and moving her mouth. Her name came off the blackboard rather quickly.
the diagnosis … if the disturbance is sufficiently pervasive and … it is unlikely that it will be limited to a developmental stage.” Maybe I was a victim of improper preemption? I’m not finished with this diagnosis. “The person often experiences this instability of self-image as chronic feelings of emptiness or boredom.” My chronic feelings of emptiness and boredom came from the fact that I was living a life based on my incapacities, which were numerous. A partial list follows. I could not and
least a third of my classmates never finished college. By 1968, people were dropping out daily. Quite often now, people say to me, when I tell them I didn’t go to college, “Oh, how marvelous!” They wouldn’t have thought it was so marvelous back then. They didn’t; my classmates were just the sorts of people who now tell me how marvelous I am. In 1966, I was a pariah. What was I going to do? a few of my classmates asked. “I’m going to join the WACs,” I told one guy. “Oh, yeah? That will be an
stay here.” “Okay.” He didn’t seem miffed. He looked around the room one last time and shook his head. I stayed at the window. After a few minutes I saw him get into his red car and drive off, leaving little puffs of sporty exhaust behind him. Then I went back to the TV room. “Hi, Lisa,” I said. I was glad to see she was still there. “Rnnn,” said Lisa. Then we settled in for some more TV. Politics In our parallel world, things happened that had not yet happened in the world we’d come