The Camera My Mother Gave Me

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9780679443902: The Camera My Mother Gave Me

The Camera My Mother Gave Me takes us through Susanna Kaysen’s often comic, sometimes surreal encounters with all kinds of doctors—internists, gynecologists, “alternative health” experts—as well as with her boyfriend and her friends, when suddenly, inexplicably, “something went wrong” with her vagina.

The title comes from Luis Buñuel’s film Viridiana. Some peasants are at a banquet in a country mansion. They ask a maid to take a group snapshot, and she obliges, lifting up her skirt and using the “camera” that’s underneath.

Kaysen’s The Camera My Mother Gave Me observes what happens when sexual pleasure is replaced by pain. “When eros goes away,” she writes, “it’s as if I’m colorblind. The world is gray.” But is this a problem of body, or mind? And can clinicians tease out the difference between the two?

Spare, frank, and altogether original, The Camera My Mother Gave Me challenges us to think in new ways about the centrality and power of sexuality. It is an extraordinary investigation into the role sex plays in perception and our notions of ourselves—and into what happens when the erotic impulse meets the world of medicine

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Review:

This isn't a book you'll want to pull out on a crowded train, with clinical terms like clitoris and vulvologist, not to mention earthier ones like the F word, on virtually every page to attract the startled attention of the passenger in the next seat. Bluntly describing her yearlong effort to deal with a searing pain in her vagina, Susanna Kaysen doesn't stint on the details of what this malady did to her relationship with her boyfriend (nothing good), nor is she forgiving of the callousness and stupidity displayed by some of her doctors and various alternative health practitioners. Yet her appalling saga is compulsively readable, thanks to Kaysen's propulsive prose and sharp dialogue. She's particularly good at capturing the way people talk about their ailments over dinner and in the middle of other activities. Conversations with friends ramble from her medical problem to tiger maple furniture in an utterly convincing way, and one darkly funny scene shows a pal urging Kaysen to buy a coral necklace following a particularly horrid visit to the doctor because, "You have to get a nice thing after that appointment." Kaysen's laconic humor keeps the book from seeming self-pitying, though her terseness tends to muffle its emotional impact; she expresses her emotions without really conveying them to the reader in any depth. Nonetheless, the pared-down candor that made her portrait of mental illness so gripping in Girl, Interrupted also distinguishes this account of a decidedly physical affliction. --Wendy Smith

From the Publisher:

"A vagina dialogue: pithy, funny, adventurous, sexy, and eye-opening. . . . Disguised as plain, brown memoir, [this is] a voluptuous exploration of sexuality, aging, the failures of modern medicine, attempts at self-knowledge, and the meaning of pain."- Kirkus

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