THE CAMERA MY MOTHER GAVE ME by Susanna Kaysen

THE CAMERA MY MOTHER GAVE ME

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A vagina dialogue: pithy, funny, adventurous, sexy, and eye-opening.

The conversation is between Kaysen (Girl, Interrupted, 1993) and her vagina, which abruptly begins to give her pain instead of the pleasure they have shared so frequently over the years. Kaysen starts on a round of health practitioners, beginning with her comfortable gynecologist and moving on to an alternative medicine practice, a surgeon who specializes in the vulva (he’s a “vulvologist”), and her respected internist. She rejects surgery, which involves cutting a nerve that may also dull her sexual pleasure. But she gives a number of other options a try, from Novocain and estrogen creams, which only increase the pain, to baking soda baths and tea soaks, which don’t help at all. She researches the most likely diagnosis, but skeptically says no to the no-lettuce diet recommended as a cure, just as refuses Prozac: “My life is terrible,” she tells a doctor. “So I should take Prozac and feel better about it, even though it’s still terrible.” Meanwhile, her live-in boyfriend demands sex of one sort or another on a constant basis and refuses to believe how painful (“like razor blades”) even the slightest arousal—let alone intercourse—is for her. It’s too much like rape, she frets; he leaves. Friends offer sympathy, advice, and good meals throughout the ordeal. Eventually the pain recedes, but so does all sensation. Does this mean no more sex, she wonders in anguish? For her, sexual conquest was what relationships were all about. Maybe that’s what her vagina was trying to tell her. She isn’t sure, so she’s still listening. (One other unanswered question: What does the title mean? There’s no indication here.)

Disguised as plain, brown memoir, a voluptuous exploration of sexuality, aging, the failures of modern medicine, attempts at self-knowledge, and the meaning of pain.

Pub Date: Oct. 10th, 2001
ISBN: 0-679-44390-8
Page count: 176pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2001




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