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Promising Young Women

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A series of fragmentary tales tells the story of Lizzie, a young woman who, in her early twenties, unexpectedly embarks on a journey through psychiatric institutions, a journey that will end up lasting many years. With echoes of Sylvia Plath, and against a cultural backdrop that includes Shakespeare, Woody Allen, and Heathers, Suzanne Scanlon's first novel is both a deeply A series of fragmentary tales tells the story of Lizzie, a young woman who, in her early twenties, unexpectedly embarks on a journey through psychiatric institutions, a journey that will end up lasting many years. With echoes of Sylvia Plath, and against a cultural backdrop that includes Shakespeare, Woody Allen, and Heathers, Suzanne Scanlon's first novel is both a deeply moving account of a life of crisis and a brilliantly original work of art.


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A series of fragmentary tales tells the story of Lizzie, a young woman who, in her early twenties, unexpectedly embarks on a journey through psychiatric institutions, a journey that will end up lasting many years. With echoes of Sylvia Plath, and against a cultural backdrop that includes Shakespeare, Woody Allen, and Heathers, Suzanne Scanlon's first novel is both a deeply A series of fragmentary tales tells the story of Lizzie, a young woman who, in her early twenties, unexpectedly embarks on a journey through psychiatric institutions, a journey that will end up lasting many years. With echoes of Sylvia Plath, and against a cultural backdrop that includes Shakespeare, Woody Allen, and Heathers, Suzanne Scanlon's first novel is both a deeply moving account of a life of crisis and a brilliantly original work of art.

30 review for Promising Young Women

  1. 5 out of 5

    Parth Jawale

    "There is a kind of loneliness that comes from being with people. The kind that is more about a recognition of the failure of communication. The gaps." Suzanne Scanlon's Promising Young Women is about Lizzie, who keeps going in and out of mental institutions - much like its fragmented narrative which keeps folding and unfolding into itself. The prose has this innate ability to make sense of itself by referencing and re-referencing events, memories and changing perceptions. It's almost "There is a kind of loneliness that comes from being with people. The kind that is more about a recognition of the failure of communication. The gaps." Suzanne Scanlon's Promising Young Women is about Lizzie, who keeps going in and out of mental institutions - much like its fragmented narrative which keeps folding and unfolding into itself. The prose has this innate ability to make sense of itself by referencing and re-referencing events, memories and changing perceptions. It's almost unbelievable that such writing is planned, and I believe it is. "She didn't look like she was at peace, but seemed to instead reference peace. What peace might look like." The prose moves through time freely and drops multiple clues for you to understand the period it corresponds to, and it works beautifully in its favour. For example, a chapter named "Heather" starts off with an elaborate reference to the movie Heathers and its release a few years prior to the current time in the novel. Her writing is very clever and at times too cathartic to keep reading at a stretch. At the same time, it's addictive and you just can't help but finish it in one reading. "If you were the one who didn't know how to live, if you needed to be taught, we'd look away, too. We wouldn't want to know."

  2. 4 out of 5

    Michael Vagnetti

    "Iatrogenic" is when the treatment does harm. Untrustworthy medicine, misunderstood brains: when you experience the personal and expanded import of this, it must be like being eaten by The Blob. What is moral courage? To express compassion after having been digested by the invalidating maw of medical-industrial phagocytosis: "It was far away, and it had nothing to do with me. Still, I couldn't stop thinking about it. What it would be like." (23) To still read faces, and describe what people are "Iatrogenic" is when the treatment does harm. Untrustworthy medicine, misunderstood brains: when you experience the personal and expanded import of this, it must be like being eaten by The Blob. What is moral courage? To express compassion after having been digested by the invalidating maw of medical-industrial phagocytosis: "It was far away, and it had nothing to do with me. Still, I couldn't stop thinking about it. What it would be like." (23) To still read faces, and describe what people are feeling. To be on guard but to still speak. To let down the necessary guard enough. This is writing with a terse, well-guided economy, where poetry is = avoiding mundane diction fluff, but at the same time, convincing the reader that what the speaker is saying is important, no matter what it is. When the speaker plants the seed that "Language is a betrayal, after all," (31) and then, of course, continues speaking, words become mines. "She would deploy the facts." (39) The reader walks on words the speaker dislikes, and there are small, necessary explosions. They prune away directions not to follow, the make decisions about what we are saying and how it is hurting us. To know words are untrustworthy, and then, as if this wasn't enough, to start to lose them, and still speak.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    I heard about this book on Sarah McCarry's blog The Rejectionist and, after seeing in the description on Goodreads that it's reminiscent of Plath, decided to read it: it was short and I had loved The Bell Jar. The book was almost too disjointed for me, with the chronology jumping all over the place so that I didn't really know what was happening when; each chapter (including a not-related but perfectly-written one called Girls with Problems) was a new story. But the book is definitely worth I heard about this book on Sarah McCarry's blog The Rejectionist and, after seeing in the description on Goodreads that it's reminiscent of Plath, decided to read it: it was short and I had loved The Bell Jar. The book was almost too disjointed for me, with the chronology jumping all over the place so that I didn't really know what was happening when; each chapter (including a not-related but perfectly-written one called Girls with Problems) was a new story. But the book is definitely worth reading, and this is why: it has lines like these: "There was a day early on, before it got really bad--that feeling--I didn't know what to call it, because it wouldn't fit into words--which had me desiring a certain obliteration ... that made me want to stop eating, or to smoke lots of cigarettes, or to run, or to put on bright red lipstick and walk down the street until someone would touch me." and "Everything Dread said was like a secret voice speaking out of my own bones." and "'You look so pretty,' one or another said. This is what people say to little girls. This is not the only way we learn that pretty matters, but it is one way." Promising Young Women is full of those sorts of sentences, the ones that are quietly true. It was a little too fragmented--but worth it.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Cassie (book__gal)

    "You feel alone. Is a young woman’s loneliness a cliche or does it stand for the world? You once thought your loneliness was special in its intensity. It’s possible that everyone thinks her loneliness is special. It all makes you sick. A desire to puke. This remaining defining feeling in your now post-inpatient life. You’ve been cured. That thing so heavy and intractable that you believe it may swallow you whole. Soon. It isn’t so much the feeling itself that is nauseating rather the sense that "You feel alone. Is a young woman’s loneliness a cliche or does it stand for the world? You once thought your loneliness was special in its intensity. It’s possible that everyone thinks her loneliness is special. It all makes you sick. A desire to puke. This remaining defining feeling in your now post-inpatient life. You’ve been cured. That thing so heavy and intractable that you believe it may swallow you whole. Soon. It isn’t so much the feeling itself that is nauseating rather the sense that it will not cease. That it will expand. As it expands, endurance becomes less likely. And then there is the knowledge that enduring was possibly the worst option."⁣ ⁣ I read Promising Young Women in one sitting yesterday. I loved it. The young white woman in perpetual existential crisis trope can be played out, I know, but the fragmented narrative and cathartic voice of this book felt unique and moving to me. I don’t think this book will be for everyone, but I think you’ll find it voices feelings many of us have felt but didn’t quite know how to put into words. I also greatly enjoy reading about the experiences of young women in general. Knowing the reading tastes and preferences of some of my Goodreads friends here and on Instagram, I think quite a few of you will enjoy it and if it speaks to you I implore you to pick it up 🖤

  5. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    "I saw the charts that noted what made a patient more or less likely to succeed. I read about the 'unexpected failures.' According to the book the 'unexpected failures' were those attractive, intelligent, promising young women who had, against all expectation, offed themselves in the years post-discharge. I knew I shouldn't be reading but I couldn't stop. I read for clues to my own prognosis. It didn't look good." As this memoir-like novel begins, a narrator named Lizzie is recalling he time in "I saw the charts that noted what made a patient more or less likely to succeed. I read about the 'unexpected failures.' According to the book the 'unexpected failures' were those attractive, intelligent, promising young women who had, against all expectation, offed themselves in the years post-discharge. I knew I shouldn't be reading but I couldn't stop. I read for clues to my own prognosis. It didn't look good." As this memoir-like novel begins, a narrator named Lizzie is recalling he time in her late teens she spent institutionalized for depression. She tells her story in a hypnotic, highly stylized manner she seems to have borrowed, along with a few memorable lines of description, from The Bell Jar. Unlike The Bell Jar, though, this novel's perspective eventually opens up, so that we see its protagonist and the people in her world from both inside and out. There is much more to the story than initially meets the eye. Though Lizzie's hospitalization is set in the '90s, Scanlon evokes a disconcerting sense of timelessness, as though what happened to this "promising" woman has happened and is still happening somewhere right now. Scanlon weaves pastiche and cultural references about woman and madness into a vivid, expertly crafted novel that is almost impossible to put down.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Laryssa Wirstiuk

    The book had a few brilliant shining moments, but overall I found the narrative to be forgettable. The fragmented episodes, in my opinion just did not work for this book, and I would have like to see some more substantial character development. I just don't feel connected to the characters at all and therefore cannot invest my emotions in them. The ending was particularly underwhelming. Also, I think the book trivializes mental illness. I kind of get that the author is trying to make a point The book had a few brilliant shining moments, but overall I found the narrative to be forgettable. The fragmented episodes, in my opinion just did not work for this book, and I would have like to see some more substantial character development. I just don't feel connected to the characters at all and therefore cannot invest my emotions in them. The ending was particularly underwhelming. Also, I think the book trivializes mental illness. I kind of get that the author is trying to make a point about regular growing pains and grief being characterized as mental illness, but in doing so it seemed to me to be making a statement about all mental illness - that psychiatric drugs are just all good fun. I don't know if that's what the author meant to portray, but it came across that way. I just kept looking for something to grasp. I would not recommend.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jasmine Woodson

    oh thank goodness I was afraid messy but promising tragic young white women narratives had been played allll the way out, but nope! I LOVE the structure of the stories, though, how the narrative folds into and out of itself.

  8. 4 out of 5

    JSA Lowe

    Oh HELL yes. I have a lot to say, but I'm reviewing it and another book for an Unnamed Journal, so nothing more from me for now, not a word. Only: you want this. Trust me, you do.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    Dorothy Publishing delivers again! This time, the story centers around Lizzie, a woman who goes in and out of mental institutions. The structure is not linear, and gives voice to some feelings that I think most women experience at some point.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jan Stinchcomb

    Lovely, literary and surprisingly optimistic. Structured in fragments that convey the mystery of perception and memory. Scanlon's description of childhood grief is fearless and on point.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Full Stop

    http://www.full-stop.net/2012/12/07/r... Review by Eleanor Gold Virginia Woolf, in Orlando, wrote about a proliferation of selves piloted by a Key Self that works to compress them into agreement, into a unity that can withstand the shock of the present. Perhaps this is the best way to understand Suzanne Scanlon’s Promising Young Women. Selves abound in Scanlon’s debut novel. The back cover identifies them all as “Lizzie,” but don’t be fooled. Promising Young Women is told through a multitude of http://www.full-stop.net/2012/12/07/r... Review by Eleanor Gold Virginia Woolf, in Orlando, wrote about a proliferation of selves piloted by a Key Self that works to compress them into agreement, into a unity that can withstand the shock of the present. Perhaps this is the best way to understand Suzanne Scanlon’s Promising Young Women. Selves abound in Scanlon’s debut novel. The back cover identifies them all as “Lizzie,” but don’t be fooled. Promising Young Women is told through a multitude of voices that are young and old, male and female, empathetic and less so. Set mainly in the 1990s, the novel takes temporal leaps into the past, future, and a multiplicity of presents — often signaled through references to popular culture: “This wasn’t like in the movie Heathers, which had come out a few years earlier”; “We went to a theater in Westwood to see Postcards from the Edge. . . . We saw Crimes and Misdemeanors at the same theater. It was my first Woody Allen movie.” Besides Carrie Fisher and Woody Allen, there are references to Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, Simone de Beauvoir, William Faulkner, Walden, Girl, Interrupted — this is a novel that knows its context. Read more here: http://www.full-stop.net/2012/12/07/r...

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jeffrey

    This book is beautifully written in a matter-of-fact tone about mental illness. It is a coming of age novel that take the main character Lizzie through her struggles with various stages of life--sexuality, career, and motherhood--at the same time she is struggling with mental illness. Subjects like mental instability are very challenging to write about because they are so easily overdramatized. The last thing a thoughtful audience wants are histronics. The sensitive, smart choices Scanlon makes This book is beautifully written in a matter-of-fact tone about mental illness. It is a coming of age novel that take the main character Lizzie through her struggles with various stages of life--sexuality, career, and motherhood--at the same time she is struggling with mental illness. Subjects like mental instability are very challenging to write about because they are so easily overdramatized. The last thing a thoughtful audience wants are histronics. The sensitive, smart choices Scanlon makes in her writing--indeed there is also a lovely ironic humor--make Promising Young Women an enjoyable, insightful read that rewards you every step of the way.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jen

    Some really lovely stuff in here. I didn't think the structure of the book -- these fragments in chapters -- was used to its fullest potential. It feels almost as though the book could have gone a bit deeper into the editing process, made the fragments seem more intentional, less haphazardly collected together. The chapter toward the end of the book called "The Other Story" was incredibly moving and well-written/structured and works really well as a standalone piece.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Veronica

    "The doctors had asked me if I could still take pleasures in things. The other thing was that I'd discovered I was a cipher. 'I am an empty thing. A fragmented mutating subject.' 'No, you just feel that way,' they told me. 'What's the difference?'"

  15. 4 out of 5

    Angela

    This was what Prozac Diaries should have been but wasn't. Little vignettes on the psych ward, all of them well-written and pungent. And she made it out and wrote this book, so they're extra-good and extra-pungent.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Julie

    A disturbing, disjointed ride through one woman's survival of depression. I did not like the choice to make the last thing her suicide attempt that got her institutionalized. I would have liked more on how she coped and learned to deal with life.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Carrie

    That the question that despair asks has no answer.

  18. 5 out of 5

    M.

    this book is phenomenal.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Kdunbier

    I love this book with the kind of complicated love you have when you wish you had written something yourself.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Kiersten

    I knew going into this that it had been compared to The Bell Jar, but I figured that was a lazy comparison based solely on the fact that both books are about women suffering from extreme mental illness. I was wrong. The writing style is eerily identical to Plath's in The Bell Jar. If I hadn't known this was a different author, I'd have assumed it was written by Sylvia Plath. That aside, the writing/chronology was extremely disjointed. Which I actually think adds to the reader's understanding of I knew going into this that it had been compared to The Bell Jar, but I figured that was a lazy comparison based solely on the fact that both books are about women suffering from extreme mental illness. I was wrong. The writing style is eerily identical to Plath's in The Bell Jar. If I hadn't known this was a different author, I'd have assumed it was written by Sylvia Plath. That aside, the writing/chronology was extremely disjointed. Which I actually think adds to the reader's understanding of Lizzie's depression. To add to that, the ending was abrupt and shocking, but in a way that didn't feel important as you were reading it; so much so that after finishing, I re-read the last three pages, to confirm I'd understood what just happened. I'm also convinced the character "Dread" is her depression personified. Which might be obvious and maybe I'm a bit dense for thinking that's an interesting observation.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Heather Hasselle

    Strange and succinct, this novel of many interweaving voices, takes place in (and out) of a mental ward specifically designed for "promising young women." The institution is beautiful (rolling hills, bird baths), as are the residents, though they are broken, or breaking and very few are ever getting better. Never have I read characters with mental illnesses/ailments (even more rarely, female characters) written so well and so rightly complex. Through Scanlon's perceptive observations and clear Strange and succinct, this novel of many interweaving voices, takes place in (and out) of a mental ward specifically designed for "promising young women." The institution is beautiful (rolling hills, bird baths), as are the residents, though they are broken, or breaking and very few are ever getting better. Never have I read characters with mental illnesses/ailments (even more rarely, female characters) written so well and so rightly complex. Through Scanlon's perceptive observations and clear language, we are able to feel what it is like to be these women (because we are them, all of us)--in an acronym-named therapy group, on the inside of our thoughts, looking out, as if through a periscope, seeing what is around without ever having to come to the surface, because why come up and out when we won't be understood anyway?

  22. 4 out of 5

    TinyHero

    A compelling portrait of life in a locked ward, set in the 90s but not so unrelatable that it seems dated (interesting that she chose to set it then). I really liked all the sentences/passages that seemed to illuminate some undeniable truth about life-they were the parts that lingered. The vignettes became seemingly more disconnected from one another after a while and found myself craving a narrative that was more "together"-that offered character development and relatability (not a word sorry) A compelling portrait of life in a locked ward, set in the 90s but not so unrelatable that it seems dated (interesting that she chose to set it then). I really liked all the sentences/passages that seemed to illuminate some undeniable truth about life-they were the parts that lingered. The vignettes became seemingly more disconnected from one another after a while and found myself craving a narrative that was more "together"-that offered character development and relatability (not a word sorry) But for its pretty short length, the structure works well.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Ruth Marner

    I really like this book. The first time I picked it up I had to put it down because it's pretty intense. When I returned to it several weeks later I was glad I gave it a second glance. Scanlon writes about her time in a mental institution. By using a different name (Lizzie) she is able to establish distance. I am assuming that this memoir is based on her own experience. Even if it isn't it is a good read.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Laurann

    A FRACTURED REVIEW OF A FRACTURED BOOK ENG 401 Ever since I heard the teacher say the students had to read this list of books, I wanted to die. I wrote this in a post. I wrote a lot of posts back then. Some of them I even published. I wrote them in my phone. It was all sort of satisfying. This happened in the fall. That I wound up in an English class. I guess it had to be the fall. I remember the oppressive themes. You know the themes. Those that subtly call you a bad person. Those that call your A FRACTURED REVIEW OF A FRACTURED BOOK ENG 401
 Ever since I heard the teacher say the students had to read this list of books, I wanted to die. I wrote this in a post. I wrote a lot of posts back then. Some of them I even published. I wrote them in my phone. It was all sort of satisfying. This happened in the fall. That I wound up in an English class. I guess it had to be the fall. I remember the oppressive themes. You know the themes. Those that subtly call you a bad person. Those that call your country bad. Those that say you couldn't possibly understand. I had frustration no one could confuse with satisfaction. A splash of consternation and downright perturbation. I wasn't supposed to write or I was but the class wanted to read what I wrote. But it wasn't supposed to be like this.  We were taught MLA format. I loved MLA format. I loved all formats. I still do. I found comfort there: holding the phone, typing the words, filing the screen with words. (WHAT'S YOUR DAMAGE,) HEATHER This wasn't like the movie Heathers. Heathers had humor. This book made me want to stick my head in an oven. Sylvia Plath is not a joke. Feminism. Feminism. Feminism. RANDOM THOUGHTS She sat in blue pajamas. She longed to say, "Your mother is not a fish. What are you talking about?" She would deploy the facts. MISERY I guess I could be kind of a Drama Queen, though I rarely admitted it. 'The student has an obsessive need to complain over and over again.' MOR Roger was a twat who quoted Russian. Roger was a creep. Roger liked to be surrounded by pretty girls. Roger must be stopped. 
 UGH
 I can appreciate a sassy acronym.
 ASPIRING "Bright sadness" is exactly how I would describe Los Angeles.  ELEANOR GRADY
 ...was quite a lady, according to the ward. MARY She thinks of Bill Clinton as attractive. This is disturbing. Possibly one of the most disturbing parts. MOUNT ST. HELENS Toads love ash. Who knew? 🌋 🐸 THE CLOSEST THING The best description of Limousines CONSTANT OBSERVATION All emotions are problems. Yet the book makes you feel things. Is that a problem?  DREAMS OF RETURN That Madeline, always doing things with acronyms. I can appreciate a strange dream.  ALL THAT YOU AREN'T BUT MIGHT POSSIBLY BE Everyone is privileged compared to those who endured concentration camps. She speaks of loneliness. Reading is done alone. Is that lonely?  AM I BLUE (IN THE FACE)? There are things I love, and here are a few: Books, chocolate, history, travel, tea, macarôns, France, dark red roses, anything to do with WWII, the work of David Foster Wallace, and inappropriate humor

  25. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    A novel in fragments, each with a different narrative method but all circling the life of one character struggling with mental health and depression. On one hand I feel like I’ve read very similar novels before, but the style and starkness stands out.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Ann Delcamp

    Great writing style but not much of a plot.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Liz Cettina

    this is a classic book i'd love and i did

  28. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    Strong beginning/middle, weak end.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jasmin

    At first, I felt embarrassed picking this up. I got it at a local bookstore in a small Canadian city. In highschool I loved Sylvia Plath -- no, I was obsessed. I read everything I could that she had written. Later in life I fell similarly into depression and was hospitalized. I realized that I had romanticized and maybe idolized Plath in highschool. Now, I resent that. Scanlon's book takes this hospitalization and extracts the boring truth of it, the boring truth of being depressed, a fragile At first, I felt embarrassed picking this up. I got it at a local bookstore in a small Canadian city. In highschool I loved Sylvia Plath -- no, I was obsessed. I read everything I could that she had written. Later in life I fell similarly into depression and was hospitalized. I realized that I had romanticized and maybe idolized Plath in highschool. Now, I resent that. Scanlon's book takes this hospitalization and extracts the boring truth of it, the boring truth of being depressed, a fragile existence that I can relate to. I relate to it much more than I relate to Plath now. I think that is the cause of my embarrassment -- the mention of Plath on the back. I found this during a less depressive period, but it was also a period of searching for more behind that, as well as feeling the echoing frustration of hospitalization. I had also been reading Goffman's Asylums. Goffman's book is less narrative, though not dry. I dig into it; there's still dirt beneath my fingers. Scanlon's book, however, presents a personhood that is so close to me. This depressive nature, this "promising young woman." "The thing is when you're sick or when they call you sick you start acting like that." (13) "This was before I'd learned that Sylvia Plath was real, not a joke." (29) That quote struck me hard. I learnt that the hard way too. Not that my own hospitalization was anything about that, but I did feel the comfort of Plath which caused me to take it less seriously at first. I kind of resent the blurb (and some reviews I've read) which name-drop Plath, Shakespeare, Woody Allen, Heathers... No! Well, perhaps these individuals or films do echo (as the blurb says) throughout the text, but such comparisons feel reductive. Promising Young Women is more than that. It's about depressive social relations - in and outside the hospital. It rings true with its descriptions of being in a New York city psych ward, watching the city through a barred window, not being allowed to exist outside those halls. Then, the social relations are so real. They feel like a narratization of Goffman's studies. They feel like my own psych ward experiences. It is the form I love -- an almost-memoir, but not quite...

  30. 4 out of 5

    Liza

    very good! i tried to make my partner read it because she is in nursing school and has a clinical rotation in bellevue right now but she probably won't. sometimes i have a hard time sticking with depression/depressive narratives but this one had a voice that really pulled though. i liked all the references to sarah lawrence and found it very sarah lawrence-y in a kind of nostalgic way. (i could see that being a criticism or dismissal, sarah lawrence-y, as a kind of shorthand for pretty girls very good! i tried to make my partner read it because she is in nursing school and has a clinical rotation in bellevue right now but she probably won't. sometimes i have a hard time sticking with depression/depressive narratives but this one had a voice that really pulled though. i liked all the references to sarah lawrence and found it very sarah lawrence-y in a kind of nostalgic way. (i could see that being a criticism or dismissal, sarah lawrence-y, as a kind of shorthand for pretty girls with problems, but obvs i am all for it.)

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