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Memoir of a Strange Girl

by Stacy Pershall

Pub Date: Jan. 21st, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-393-06692-0
Publisher: Norton

The grim, turbulent life of a girl at the mercy of multiple psychological maladies.

The product of an unconventional childhood in rural Prairie Grove, Ark., in the ’70s, belly dancer and artist Pershall recalls prancing around department stores fantasizing about becoming a dancer “magically teleported to New York City on waves of talent.” But by age ten, the author recognized a noticeable uptick in the ups and downs she was experiencing. She internalized her mother’s miscarriage, began drumming up alternate “identities” to buffer her parents’ hurtful “obsessive devotion” to sibling Cameron and adopted fundamentalist Christianity as a retreat from grade-school bullying. Her erratic behavior increased after Owen, her punky high-school sweetheart, took her virginity and took off after criticizing her eating habits. Anorexia, bulimia and self-loathing followed. After Pershall discovered diet pills, she contemplated suicide in tenth grade. Eventually, her snooping mother read the author’s diary and set in motion a series of visits to a psychiatrist. The rest of her high-school years were spent in a dense cloud of cyclical manic depression (“for every seventy-two hours of unadulterated manic bliss, there are weeks of unremitting depression and obsessive rumination”), which marred a stint with a study-abroad program in London. The author’s lamentations on her scarred, downward-spiraling condition continue through theater internships and two more suicide attempts—one streamed live on a webcam. Pershall’s material becomes increasingly difficult to read as she writes frenetically about the sad vacuum of her life and the recurring bouts of aggression and self-loathing that destroyed countless relationships, including a misguided marriage at 24. A tattoo aficionado, Pershall continues to artistically recreate her skin as “a place in which I could live.” With much suffering and more than 24 drug combinations tried and failed, she closes with glimmers of hope and self-awareness.

A sobering, exhaustive amalgam of scary psychoses and liberating introspection.