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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.
see this doctor, who lived out in the suburbs. I’d changed trains twice. And I would have to retrace my steps to get to my job. Just thinking of it made me tired. “Don’t you think?” He was still standing in front of me. “Don’t you think you need a rest?” “Yes,” I said. He strode off to the adjacent room, where I could hear him talking on the phone. I have thought often of the next ten minutes—my last ten minutes. I had the impulse, once, to get up and leave through the door I’d entered, to
has no character. It’s not like skin. It doesn’t show age or illness or pallor or tan. It has no pores, no hair, no wrinkles. It’s like a slipcover. It shields and disguises what’s beneath. That’s why we grow it; we have something to hide. Her name was Polly. This name must have seemed ridiculous to her in the days—or months—when she was planning to set herself on fire, but it suited her well in her slipcovered, survivor life. She was never unhappy. She was kind and comforting to those who were
some other people going to the cafeteria for dinner, I discovered the tunnels. We say that Columbus discovered America and Newton discovered gravity, as though America and gravity weren’t there until Columbus and Newton got wind of them. This was the way I felt about the tunnels. They weren’t news to anybody else, but they made such an impression on me that I felt I’d conjured them into being. It was a typical December day in the Boston area: tin-colored clouds spitting bits of rain mixed with
being in a map—not reading a map but being inside a map,” I said to Ruth one day when she’d taken me down there. “Like the plan of something rather than the thing itself.” She didn’t say anything and I knew I ought to stop talking about it, but I couldn’t. “It’s like the essence of the hospital down here—you know what I mean?” “Time’s up,” said Ruth. “I’m on checks in ten minutes.” In February I asked Melvin, “You know those tunnels?” “Could you tell me more about the tunnels?” He didn’t know
more than a ’60s period piece. It is a cautionary tale for our time, for any era struggling to balance on the razor’s edge between sanity and insanity.” —St. Louis Post Dispatch “Susanna Kaysen’s candid memoir of her stay in a psychiatric hospital breaks the mold. It is both funny and frightening. Kaysen’s account is provocative, concise writing with an occasional edge of black humor. It makes us examine our own minds and wonder just who has the right to decide if someone has gone mad.” —St.