Two weeks ago I found it on the sale bookshelf in local library, paperback with this cover for one dollar. Why not? I said to myself, and read it this week. Ms. Kaysen describes her stay at the renowned psychiatric hospital in Massachusetts, famous for its clientele–Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell, James Taylor, and Ray Charles (who knew Ray Charles hit a loony bin?). It was 1967 when she was admitted, and wasn’t released for nearly two years, all after a brief examination by a psychiatrist who completed the 18-year-old Kaysen’s interview with asking her simply if she needed a rest. She was a tired girl that morning, and a bit confused, and she had picked at a very ripe pimple on her face (which the doctor noted) and she felt inclined to say yes, she needed a rest. Within one hour, after a cab ride, and no parental contact she signed herself into McLean Psychiatric Hospital. I still wonder about that interview. Who wouldn’t honestly say they needed a rest in their life, or a break. Who doesn’t pick at pimples?
Which brings me to a thought-provoking question: Would I, myself, have been admitted after an interview like that…would any of us?
The book is a fascinating journey where Susanna meets other strange girls, equally deficient in mental health, many much more than herself. Some of it is sad, some darkly funny, and a brilliant take on the landscape of the 60s, for women and girls in particular. Susanna calls it a “parallel universe” to which she entered. “And it is easy to slip into a parallel universe. There are so many of them: worlds of the insane, the criminal, the crippled, the dying, perhaps the dead as well. These worlds exist alongside this one and resemble it, but they are not it.”