Susanna Kaysen, The Camera My Mother Gave Me
During middle age, Kaysen (author of Girl, Interrupted) developed an excruciating pain in her vagina. She went to her gynecologist, who prescribed medications to treat what he thought was a yeast infection; after that diagnosis (and a few others) turned out to be false, he admitted complete ignorance and referred her to an alternative health expert. The alternative health nurse prescribed a variety of home remedies, none of which worked, and some of which actually increased Kaysen’s pain. Kaysen eventually hooked up with a doctor who specialized in her illness, but his method of “treatment” involved carving a huge chunk out of her twat. Also, “the procedure” had something like a 50 percent failure rate. Yeeeeeeah-Kaysen passed, and I can’t say I blame her.
Biofeedback, antidepressants, cortisone, Novocain cream-Kaysen tried a lot of things, and they either didn’t work, made things worse, or worked but had too many side effects. And while she was going through this torture, her boyfriend made things oh so much better by insisting that if she really wanted to fuck, she would. When she refused to have sex because it hurt too badly, he coerced her into giving him blow jobs; when she refused to give him a blow job, he forced her head down. Kaysen finally kicked him out when–on one of the rare occasions that she did want to have sex–he tried to shove Novocain cream inside her vagina even as she yelled at him to stop.
What a prince! Where can I get me one of those?!
In all honesty, although I sympathize with Kaysen’s plight, I can’t say that this made very compelling reading. Her prose style is very spare, very minimalist: she writes in a clipped, simplistic way, and even when she’s repeating verbatim what someone else said, there are no quotation marks. I don’t dislike this method of writing, but I don’t feel it’s very effective in this instance. It makes everything feel as though it’s at a slight remove; I am very aware that I am being told a story, yanno? That style might be more “honest” and “transparent,” but…well, it made it harder for me to connect with what she was saying.
Recommended for: Eve Ensler, women’s studies undergrads.