Tangents can be fun, and tangents can be, well, tangential. The tangents in Girl, Interrupted, a memoir by Susanna Kaysen, tell of the borderline personality patient at McLean’s in Massachusetts. Written in 1993, the book became a national bestseller after the release of the movie adaptation in 2000, but the film leads to the common misconception that the book is about a lunatic’s stay in an asylum.
Kaysen reflects upon psychology but never really in depth about her own illness. In a chapter titled ‘My Diagnosis’, in which she mentions that she only researched her diagnosis twenty-five years after being released from McLean’s, we learn about her through her perception of others, her memories, and her medical files. Her awkward ticks such as her dislike for patterned objects, “[t]he floor of the ice cream parlor bothered me. It was black-and-white checkerboard tile… The contrast got under my skin.”
Her sporadic ticks give us an inside look at the true Kaysen, her random yet intelligent rants about how the brain thinks almost give off the impression that she is ‘too’ smart, which is a common trait for borderline patients. “What does borderline personality mean, anyhow? It [is] a way station between neurosis and psychosis: a fractured but not disassembled psyche. [T]o quote my post-Melvin psychiatrist: ‘It's what they call people whose lifestyles bother them.’"
Moments when Kaysen reflects upon society and what the parameters are to be deemed ‘mad’, “How could I say for certain that I wasn’t [mad], if I couldn’t say for certain that a curtain wasn’t a mountain range?”, are one of the few insights the reader gets of Kaysen’s ‘disease’. The memoirs are crafted in a certain way that throughout the book there are copies of Kaysen’s medical records. This aspect adds to the reality of her situation and brings the reader into her world at McLean’s; it amplifies the vivacity of her experience making it the reader’s experience.
Kaysen skillfully wraps up her memoirs by contrasting how she was before and after McLean’s. At the beginning of the book, she mentions her trip to New York with her English professor, and how a painting had ‘screamed’ “Don’t!” as if trying to warn her. On her second visit, she saw the identical painting, but truly saw it for what it was. This closing contrast slowly eases you out of Kaysen’s memoirs and clearly demonstrates her evolution and how she perceives the world.