Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Girl, Interrupted


Girl, Interrupted (1993) is memoir of author Susanna Kaysen’s experience at McLean Hospital in Cambridge when she was eighteen years old. Interspersed throughout, Kaysen includes the files from her case record, which give her diagnosis (borderline disorder), her condition upon entering the hospital (depressed/suicidal, ran away from home), and progress notes throughout her hospitalization.
I saw the movie before I read the book, and I have to say that I think that the movie is a little bit better than the book. It is just more gripping, you really empathize with the characters, especially with the main character in a way that I didn’t sense reading the book.
I think that Kaysen’s writing style, really sparse, and deadpan, turned me off from the character. It was kind of like listening to the same person make some jokes over and over that you just don’t think are funny. Additionally, I don’t think that she dealt with the causes of her mental condition to the extent that she could have, nor did she indicate how “the system” helped her to get better. She seemed more to question the system and conventional ideas about mental illness.
She has one cryptic line, “(our families) were the reason that we were there”. In the context, Kaysen is referencing the high cost of staying at McLean. However, you wonder if she also meant that her families’ treatment of her somehow contributed to her boarderline behavior? She never goes into this in any depth, and I wished that she might have.
Probably the best part about this book was the title; it demonstrated how she can use small phrases to say a whole lot. “The (student nurses) shared apartments and had boyfriends and talked about clothes…we saw three doctors a day, the ward doctor, the resident, and our own therapist.” It was sad. It was girl interrupted. And a lot of women who haven’t spent time in asylums identify with this character; and I think in the movie you get into the main character a little bit more; how she lived in a world that had a lot of upper middle class expectations for her, yet she herself didn’t attend college; how she wanted to write, but couldn’t convince this to people, since they wanted her to marry, or to pursue a more appropriate career choice.
At one point in the book, Kaysan quits a job when her boss tells her that she has to stop smoking on her breaks and that she can’t wear mini skirts. “I had trouble with the rules…was this a mark of maddness? Was I crazy or right”? This is a good question. Because to a certain extent we all have trouble with rules, unless of course we work for the government in which case we delight in bureaucracy and making life complicated for other people.
Does not playing by the rules make a person crazy? For example, the kind of people who refuse to have cell phones, and who never check e-mails, and so are impossible to get ahold of, or the kind of people who won’t pay for health insurance and who then incur on themselves huge medical bills; are these people crazy or are they just not playing by all of the rules?
It’s hard to say.
Some other books on mental illness; “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden” and “Catcher in the Rye” get inside the mind of the character a little bit better, and particularly in the case of “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden” demonstrate how an analyst can really assist in bringing a mentally ill person out of their alternate universe and into reality.

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