Susanna Kaysen, who may be best known for Girl, Interrupted, her memoir about being in a psychiatric hospital when she was a teenager in the 1960s, returns with a book that at first glance appears to be a prequel to that work—Cambridge’s protagonist is named Susanna and its setting is the author’s own Massachusetts hometown in the 1950s. But it’s a bit more complicated than that. See the review here.
LJ: The book is described as a “novel from life.” What does that mean to you?
SK: It is much more of a memoir than it is a novel. However, because my memory is not perfect, because it covers a lot of time, and because I wanted the leeway to improve the story if I needed to, I felt that it could be thought of as fiction. I decided that it was fiction in some fundamental sense, though it is primarily drawn from my life and what I saw. I intend to write more of it—I hope I will—and I think that as it progresses, it will be even less true to the actual events and people. So it was a way of not trying to convince myself or anyone who was reading the book that everything was from memory. There are lapses, there are changes, there are inventions and substitutions.
What’s the book about?
It’s [mostly] set in Cambridge, [MA], though some of it is set abroad. Some of it is about what life in an academic setting is like for a child, and some of it I guess is about what kind of a place Cambridge is, what kind of a place it is to grow up in. I think it’s about long-ago days, too. I don’t know how times have changed exactly, but they have!
Were you involved in casting Kathe Mazur to narrate the audiobook?
I was! In fact, it’s funny because I know her mother, and I didn’t realize that Kathe was her daughter until after I had picked her. I listened to several possibilities, and she was definitely the one I [wanted] and then it turned out that I know her mother.
What appealed to you about her performance?
It seemed the most straightforward to me. It just seemed clear, direct, unfussy. Just nice. It seemed like she wasn’t in any way getting in the way of the material she was reading. It was a very pleasant and clear delivery, and I liked that.