Through about the first half of Your Voice in My Head, I was sure I was not the right demographic or audience for this book. I was not 25 – 35 years old, did not live on either coast, specifically NYC or LA, did not generally have suicidal thoughts except sometimes about my writing, my only experience with cutting was when I was careless in the kitchen, and I was manic-depressive only to the extent that I think most writers are–high when you write something REALLY GREAT!, flattened when you read it the next day…
I had read a review of the memoir in the NY Times, and knew what it was about: a young, suicidal woman who had had a beloved, life-saving psychiatrist who died suddenly without telling her he was sick, and who had had a soaring love affair with a movie star that crashed and burned apparently inexplicably. It was getting a lot of hype, and I wanted to see what the buzz was about (beyond the photograph of the striking young woman who wrote it) and if it was justified.
Reading it made me feel manic and slightly crazy. It’s a rush of stream of consciousness sentences that jump around all over the place, and I was sometimes lost in time, not able to place events in any chronological order. It also seemed at times the epitome of solipsism: (Example: “I’m suddenly and unnervingly panicked by me. The smell of my armpits. The scent of myself on my fingertips after I’ve masturbated. The perfume of my hair on the pillow.”). I felt slightly ashamed, as if I were a gawker at a gruesome accident: see Emma cut her arms, legs and stomach with a razor; see her binge and purge many times a day; see her attempt suicide; see her be lonely, see her have lots of lovers and boyfriends who do bad things to her (one is even called Bad Boyfriend), see her cry and cry and cry – she is a major league crier. Overhear her conversations with Dr. R, who is described as eternally optimistic, upbeat, positive, caring, wise and encouraging. Luckily, this seemingly idealized characterization is backed up by emails sent by patients and friends after his death at fifty-three from lung cancer. Emma is his patient for eight years, leaning on him mightily as he supports her through a lot of thick and thin, building up healthier thoughts and choices in her head. So it is astonishing, to her and to the reader, that when she calls his office after she has moved to LA and only sees him a few times a year in NY, she learns through a message on his office voice mail that the office is closed, and then via email from his brother-in-law that he has died, when she had no idea he had been ill with cancer for nine months. For anyone with or without abandonment issues, this would have been a blow.
Okay, you think you’ve had a major broken heart. You think you had the most devastating break-up with a soul mate ever known to man or woman. You believe you’ve felt the most pain a human is capable of. NOOOOO. You do not win this prize, Emma does. And hers was with a movie star, so take that! Now enters the famous GH (infamous Gypsy Husband; you can google who he is but I’ll save you the trouble: it’s Colin Farrell – thank god it wasn’t Colin Firth) who sweeps Emma off her feet with the most extravagant declarations of his adoration and enduring love, and especially awful, his fantasy of their future baby Pearl, which draws Emma in hook, line and pacifier. Emma and GH have a really good time. They are really in love. They fly to Lisbon for a Leonard Cohen concert (jealous!). And then suddenly, inexplicably to Emma, he’s done, needs space, moves on. And she goes into the inevitable tailspin, and since Dr. R. is dead, she has to get through this breakup on her own. She does some self-destructive things, plays with the possibility of killing herself again, but at thirty-two and with enough of Dr. R in her head she begins to climb towards the light.
The thing is, see Emma write. Because she can really write. She’s published three novels, and towards the end of the book, she describes how “I get out of bed, go down to the computer, and start writing a screenplay that I will write for three days straight, a comedy called Liars (A-E). It sells to the Oscar-winning producer Scott Rudin, for more money than I have ever seen…” Maybe it helps to be manic… Her writing is smart, sharp, hip, out there, overflowing with pain, cheeky, honest (I think), jokey, self-deprecating, and hey! dense. Here you go: “Bad Boyfriend likes to eat late night at the Moroccan restaurant on Avenue B. On our first date, I notice, when he hangs it, that his jacket is Helmut Lang, and he notices I have a gold nameplate necklace that says PRINCESS. I don’t feel like a princess. Or rather, I feel like a zaftig and uncomfortable, trapped princess. A White House-era Chelsea Clinton. Since I’m a cat who doesn’t know what I am, I wear track pants with old-skool Nikes but Gina Lollobrigida skintight sweaters. I am caught between childhood and va-va-voom. My dark hair is pixie cut, with little wisps of blond and orange at the tips. I’m trying to look like Roxy, my old tortoiseshell cat from childhood. I’m trying to look like a dead cat. I’m trying to look like an elderly movie star no one cares about anymore. I was trying to figure out what the hell I looked like…”
Emma’s subject, her theme, her STORY is Emma herself. You will learn a lot about Emma, more than you may want to know. But maybe not, because maybe you, like I, will be reading for that very thing – to see another person laid pretty much bare.
But here’s another thing. It doesn’t end there… Emma comes through. By the end, not only does the prose lose its chaotic, manic disorder but the story smoothes out into a coherent narrative of growth and healing…(at least in the memoir). Emma grows up, more or less, as she moves further into her thirties and as she says “I start to become whole.” Maybe it’s just more hype, of a different sort, but it felt real and moving to me. I had grown too, to like Emma and pull for her.
She won me over.