Further Reading: Susanna Kaysen

This week for my further reading assignment, I read both an excerpt from Kaysen’s memoir The Camera My Mother Gave Me(2002) and an interview Kaysen participated in concerning the explicit nature of her memoir. The novel-esque memoir was based on the story of Kaysen’s experience of a disease within her vagina that hindered her life severely. The excerpt is a portion of her memoir that depicts a series of scenes where Kaysen is meeting with her gynecologist to attempt to cure the pervasive disease that has decided to claim home to her body. With excruciating pain, Kaysen struggles through medication after medication, to ultimately no avail. Her gynecologist of 20 years is unable to diagnose Kaysen, and he then suggests she see a herbalist to seek help in non-medical forms.

In Kaysen’s interview, she discusses the reasons for writing this memoir, and also addresses the fact that it is such a personal topic to expose. With obvious hesitations, Kaysen says she still asks herself if it was the best idea to publish it or not. She notes that the most common question she gets asked is concerning her current sex life, and she says she hates this question and never accurately responds.

I thought it was interesting that her two most noted pieces of work are concerning her experiences with disease, both physical and mental. Kaysen says that writing her accounts on her diseases is not therapeutic, but rather they serve as chronological accounts of these events to give her doctors a clear and proper medical history. In this sense, I see her blunt and clear and concise writing style to be in alignment with the purpose she has for writing these narratives.

Another similarity between Girl, interrupted and her memoir The Camera, from what I read of the excerpt, Kaysen writes in scenic episodes like she does in Girl, Interrupted.I thought this was interesting and I really do enjoy reading this type of writing. She also recounts conversations with doctors, as she does in Girl, Interrupted.

Why might Kaysen have chosen this method and craft of writing to tell the chronology of her health through the years?

How do the style and craft effect readers perceptions of the topic of the memoirs?

Here you can find links to both the excerpt and the interview.


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