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A raw and masterful memoir about becoming a woman and going mad—and doing both at once.
When Suzanne Scanlon was a student at Barnard in the 90s, grieving the loss of her mother—feeling untethered and swimming through inarticulable pain—she made a suicide attempt that landed her in the New York State Psychiatric Institute.
After nearly three years and countless experimental treatments, Suzanne left the ward on shaky legs. In the decades it took her to recover from the experience, Suzanne came to understand her suffering as part of something larger: a long tradition of women whose complicated and compromised stories of self-actualization are reduced to “crazy chick” and “madwoman” narratives. It was a thrilling discovery, and she searched for more books, more woman writers, as the journey of her life converged with her journey through the literature that shaped her.
Transporting, honest, and graceful, Committed is a story of discovery and recovery, reclaiming the idea of the madwoman as a template for insight and transcendence through the works of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Janet Frame, Audre Lorde, Shulamith Firestone, and others.
About the Author
SUZANNE SCANLON is the author of the novels Promising Young Women and Her 37th Year, An Index. Her writing has appeared in Granta, BOMB Magazine, The Iowa Review, and The Los Angeles Review of Books, among other places.
"Intimate, unsparing. . . . A chronicle of survival amid mental and familial turmoil. . . . Astute reflections on fragility, healing, and wholeness." —Kirkus Reviews
"Suzanne Scanlon’s memoir Committed is a lyrical and illuminating account of a young woman’s struggle with mental illness and institutionalization. Mining the metaphors endemic to the institutional setting—the way madness or insanity is “a story the patients are told and learn to tell about themselves”—and making use of medical records and her own journals alongside literary depictions and descriptions of treatment, Scanlon questions the cultural conversations around women and mental illness, framing a compelling narrative of her own recovery and redemption."
—Natasha Trethewey, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Native Guard and two-time Poet Laureate of the United States
“Not since Marguerite Duras have we had such an intimate and moving voice. Among the very finest and most intelligent memoirs ever written—and with such generosity towards those who suffer mental pain (which is, all of us).”
—Clancy Martin, author of How Not to Kill Yourself: A Portrait of the Suicidal Mind
"It's not often that a book goes beyond literature into a metaphysical realm, or maybe that is what literature is like in its truest, deepest state. It is from within this state that we read Committed, and where we see Suzanne Scanlon, already an immensely talented writer, at her finest, cutting through propriety and convention to reach what is essential, meaningful, real. This book lives alongside the works of Annie Ernaux, Elena Ferrante, and James Baldwin, and feels every bit as important, for its artistry, for how it doesn't shy away."
—Amina Cain, author of Indelicacy and A Horse at Night
"Her mother's early death deprived Suzanne Scanlon of the privilege of separation. Subsequent profound and unceasing sadness propelled her into a long stay in a psychiatric hospital where she found the time to read books that gave her understanding and life force. An intimate and deeply intelligent, soulful book that articulates the struggle to connect to the world."
—Sarah Schulman, author of Let the Record Show: A Political History of ACT UP New York, 1987-1993
“Insightful, brave, and fiercely compelling, Suzanne Scanlon’s Committed documents the years she spent as an inpatient in the New York State Psychiatric Institute + Hospital wrestling with sadness, depression, and unexpressed grief over the death of her mother. Her memoir recounts how a host of writers and thinkers—from Marguerite Duras and Audre Lorde to Janet Frame and the sociologist Erving Goffman—helped her understand her family and negotiate the world today. Beautifully written and passionate in exploring lost connections, especially between mothers and daughters, Committed revisits a key chapter in American psychiatry as a witness to what worked and what most glaringly did not. Highly recommended.”
—Christopher Lane, writer at Psychology Today and author of Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness