Promising Young Women by Suzanne Scanlon is a tiny book — in stature, I mean. A little square of pages and text bound together. But the story inside about Lizzie, that slowly comes together piece by piece, is so big that it enfolds us all.
There isn’t a linear timeline to the tale, the chapters jump around with her memories of childhood, her hazy future, her present life — offering a fragment of the whole picture, using different avenues to relay information about how she ended up where she did, in a psych ward. What remains constant is her character, the realistic portrayal of a woman who is lovable and yet deeply damaged; we trust her voice because it is so honest, and her observations on life are eerily accurate.
Other characters walk through these stories: Dread, her college buddy, dark and brooding, similar to her in ways (some destructive), and is also her consummate “kindred spirit”. And Roger, the physician who first sees Lizzie in the psych ward as a “promising young woman”. Filled with hopes and aspirations for the girls, he’s too often disappointed by the reality of what ends up being too much for him to “fix”.
While we wind through the stories of a girl struggling to mend her all-consuming sadness, it is again the small moments of observation that grab us. Like when she watches a group of women in the ward crowd around the TV in their sweatpants, eagerly watching Friends, and wondering “how all the patients could watch Friends without feeling completely betrayed and deeply sad and even more alone than they must already feel, as psych patients” (pg. 132). And really, hasn’t a laugh-track ever made you feel that way?
Suzanne Scanlon is reading tonight with Rebecca Brown at Elliott Bay Book Company
Tonight at 7:00p.m. // Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Avenue // Free