The subtitle of this book by Stacy Pershall is “Memoir of a Strange Girl.” Hey, I think, I’m a strange girl. I open the cover and the inside flap of the dust cover reads:
“Stacy Pershall grew up as an overly intelligent, depressed, deeply strange girl in Prairie Grove, Arkansas…”
Holy shit! Prairie Grove is literally spitting distance from my hometown, Fayetteville. She grew up there in the 1970s, which is the same time I was growing up here in Fayetteville (and other small towns around it, including, I suspect, Prairie Grove). And it goes without saying I was overly intelligent, depressed, and deeply strange. Just the fact that this woman, who was practically my neighbor, was able to publish her memoir gives me hope that I may get mine in print as well.
But enough about me…LITHOM is a fascinating book. Pershall creates, I believe, a strong sense of place with perfect details, such as her dad driving truck for Willis Shaw and picking up freight from Zero Mountain, that the ony real hang-out place for teens in the 1970s and ’80s was the Mall, the fact that nearly everything everyone owns comes from Wal-Mart. Because I lived here and remember all these things she references, I might be biased. I got a kick out of reading, in a real live book, about the places I knew as a kid and teenager. I only hope her details give the other 99.9% of her readers a sense of this place as well: not quite so rural we were slopping the hogs before school; but also just rural enough to be isolated from the rest of the world, longing to escape to somewhere where we might fit in, find excitement, or just make a better life than getting married, having kids, and working for Wal-Mart.
From the beginning, Pershall is clear this book is about her struggle with “a multitude of disorders.” Her struggle is especially difficult because being in the Bible Belt, the culture teaches us that psychiatrists (“shrinks”) aren’t to be trusted and that any mental disorder can be overcome with enough willpower and prayer.
Pershall spirals into some strange territory of marking on herself, getting on her hands and knees and lapping up broth, and eating diet pills (aka speed). She writes about being in this surreal place with such frankness, and even humor, that you find yourself right there with her.
Luckily, her parents finally take her to see a therapist when her mom sees her emaciated, skeletal body naked. Throughout her various bouts with therapy, she’s diagnosed with anorexia, major depression, ADD, bulimia, biopolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and prescribed a dictionary’s worth of psychiatric medications.
Her story continues through high school and college and her move to New York, where she becomes a “CamGirl,” maxing out her boyfriend’s credit cards to install webcams in every room in her house. In what is probably the nadir of her story, she tries to commit suicide in her bathroom, and it’s all on camera, all over the Net. Luckily one of her viewers called the paramedics to save her.
Two things become her lifelines: Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and tattoos. She tells us about DBT in the prologue, about the skills she learns from it that most people learn as children. As for the tattoos, she begins each chapter with a vignette about a tattoo, her own or others’. And yet, I don’t feel like she really explains how and why tattoos are so important for her. She writes in chapter 14 about getting her first tattoo, but never really gives us the full measure of why she has gotten so many, what makes tattooing so vital to her identity and healing. I wanted more, but I suppose that’s a good thing.
It’s a crazy story…it’s exciting and touching and sometimes funny, but translating such profoundly confusing states of mind would be beyond the ability of most writers. Not Pershall; I close the book feeling like I’ve really walked a mile in her shoes. And not just because we both bought our shoes at the Fayetteville Wal-Mart on Sixth Street.