Book Diaries: HYSTERIA, by Jessica Gross (2020)

Some time in January, I finished my first read of 2023 (which felt like cheating, because it was really an audiobook that I’d listened to most of in December and chosen specifically because it was short. Only 5 hours!). Hysteria is Jessica Gross’ debut novel. I went in with no recommendations, for or against, which feels pretty rare these days. I found it kind of astounding? It’s a LOT. It follows a deteriorating first-person narrator through a single spiraling weekend, fueled by shame and alcohol and arguably a sex addiction. This is a book I would call “not for everyone.” It’s not a fun, satisfying plot. It’s not sexy as in, hot. It’s more like, do you ever feel so much shame about sleeping with your dad’s colleague at their psychiatrist dinner party and consequently self-sabotage so hard that you give a blowjob to a stranger in a bar and then convince yourself that the bartender that saw you do it is the actual Sigmund Freud? And then get really offended when Freud doesn’t want to sleep with you? And then end up telling not-Freud everything that’s ever happened to you and accidentally have a revelation about your daddy issues? No?!

You’re essentially spending 180 pages with the narrators deepest shames, watching as she tries to flee from them. It sounds like it would be a little too on the nose–the daughter of two psychiatrists now has a spanking kink and a Freud fantasy–but I think it’s the fact that all of the compounding distress that seems obvious to the reader doesn’t make sense to the narrator that makes it bearable. The story is frantic, intensely internal, and (maybe most importantly) short. We’re not in her mind too long. We might get lost in it if we were. It really does feel like we are tumbling in a shame spiral with her, the way we keep revisiting everything that’s happened. It so perfectly mimics the structure of thoughts coming out of a drunken stupor and immediately accelerating when you realize what you’ve done. It has a timelessness, that way. It reminds me of Jealousy, by Alain Robbe-Grillet. We’re pulled along, not by events, but by the torment of the narrator’s mind. There’s this really great conversation in Electric Lit between Jacqueline Alnes and Jessica Gross that I recommend if you’re considering the read. Here’s a sneak peak to get a taste of her writing style!

Read on! xx, Tab

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