Author of the week: Susanna Kaysen
For a famous memoirist, Susanna Kaysen is highly ambivalent about sharing details about her life.
For a famous memoirist, Susanna Kaysen is highly ambivalent about sharing details about her life, said Matthew Gilbert in The Boston Globe. Girl, Interrupted, her 1993 account about living in a psychiatric institution after a teenage suicide attempt, became a best-seller long before it became an iconic movie. But the book also opened up a door that Kaysen, now 65, has struggled to shut. “Everybody felt that they knew me and that I owed them more intimacy, that I had given them so much that they could demand everything,” she says. “They felt that I’d cut my breastbone open and that they were looking into my heart.” Kaysen agonized for years over the writing of a follow-up, then swore off memoir writing soon after the book’s publication.
But that was back in 2001, said Michelle Dean in Slate.com. Kaysen’s “slim, elegant” new novel, Cambridge, turns out to be a memoir of childhood in all but name. The young protagonist, Susanna, is the daughter of a Cambridge, Mass., academic, as the author was, and Kaysen says she’s called the work fiction largely so that she wouldn’t have to verify every vague recollection. “If I said it has nothing to do with me, nobody would believe that, because of course it does,” she recently told KirkusReviews.com. Labeling the book a novel also affords Kaysen greater freedom to add a second volume that she hopes will be the probing anatomy of her hometown that she’s been wanting to write for a good 40 years. “I would like it to be less about me,” she says.