A disjointed memoir of a descent into mental illness and an eventual return and emergence as a professor of literature.
Hebald (Three Blind Mice, 1989) here maps out her journey through a variety of mental institutions in her quest for a cure to her suicidal tendencies and general misery. Not surprisingly, it stems from her childhood: abusive mother and sister, incestuous father, complete inability to focus her thoughts in school, encounters with licentious male patrons at the movie theater. Isolated by a lack of social skills, the author conceived a passion for drama and through a combination of talent and force of will got herself into the highly coveted acting classes of Uta Hagen and others. She also acquired a number of older lovers and a series of psychiatrists who prescribed a bewildering variety of drugs for her condition, sometimes diagnosed as schizophrenia. She repeatedly attempted to kill herself, was hospitalized, was misunderstood by her therapists, and finally liberated herself from the treatment cycle when she tossed her medications into the sea. It’s easy to understand the author’s frustration with her doctors. Some urged her to get married (“Mating is an instinct,” one told her), while others advised her to stop acting and get a secretarial job. Nonetheless, despite her wretched tale, our protagonist engenders little sympathy in the reader. Her story is disjointed, her dialogue stilted, and her tone querulous. Hebald should obviously be the star of her own autobiography, but in this case she has crowded every other player off the stage. Her mother and sister, key figures in a turbulent childhood, are mere sketches. Lovers, doctors, and other patients flash by. When one psychiatrist infuriates Hebald by telling her “You’re too intense,” many readers will nod in sympathy—with the doctor.
Far from compelling.