On Reading Privately: Suzanne Scanlon’s Promising Young Women
I promised to write about Promising Young Women for the first entry in my summer reading journal, but I’ve avoided it for over a month since
finishing the book reading to the end. To begin with, I kept leaving it places where I wasn’t. Then I was reading other books and thinking about those. A journal is supposed to be immediate, and I’d let immediacy slip past. That wasn’t it’s fault. Promising Young Women is as immediate as a cool and perfect thing can be. It lives right where immediacy isn’t intimacy and coolness isn’t remote.
Then I worried I wouldn’t have anything smart to say about it. Which isn’t the point of a journal, and shouldn’t be the point of anything, but still. Again, not it’s fault: it’s very smart, and not in a fussy way. Like:
Roger told us that Bliss, who had been discharged to her home on Friday, had hung herself in her bedroom that Sunday.
Any of the irony that earlier had us laughing over the incongruity of her name was gone. There was nothing ironic about death. It just so totally sucked. Even in a place where pretty much everything sucked.
Anything smart I would have to say about that, or other blissfully un-ironic passages, would be too fussy. <— Case in point.
But the real barrier to writing this first journal entry is a stubborn wish to read privately. As an adult, under no obligation that I did not myself impose to keep a summer reading journal, reading privately is exactly what I get to do. A journal isn’t ever really private. It is written with the teacher in mind, or the future biographer. Or it’s meant to be published all along. A reading journal is not private reading.
By private I don’t mean secret. I’m perfectly at ease telling you I read the book (though I briefly thought I left it at someone’s house, and worried they would find it, and know I read it). By private I mean I’m keeping the reading to myself. I am not sharing. The reading is so far within me that I’m not sure any consciousness, including my own, can quite access it. And by “within me” I don’t mean my soul or heart or core; I mean the nucleus of every cell. Sorry!
By reading privately I mean this: To write about this book I feel that I would have to tell a story I don’t want to tell, at least not here. I mean from the moment I read the title, I thought, Now I don’t have to tell that story. I can read this instead.
I read with slow urgency. I read the first two pages minutes after opening my big $100 box of all the Dorothy Project books. I read these sentences:
This happened in the spring. That I wound up in a psych ward. I guess it had to be the spring. I remember the oppressive way the sun would hit the windows at midday. I felt tragic, we all did, and the sun had a way of interfering with the narrative.
And these ones:
It was the worst thing I could imagine and I couldn’t even imagine it. That’s how bad it is. If I could imagine it maybe it wouldn’t have scared me, wouldn’t promise obliteration. Plus it had to be the worst thing or else why would I be in the worst place in the world. I mean you have to be really desperate to be on a psych ward. I guess that’s obvious. But it only occurred to me later. Like when I’d hear people make jokes—you know, about crazy people or loony bins. Nut jobs. There are so many words for it. I’d realize they were talking about me. I was the worst-case scenario.
Then with athletic force I waited to read more. I wasn’t waiting until I was ready. I was waiting until I wasn’t ready.
And here I am again, having read it, but unready to write. Writing.
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