Women are crazy and men are stupid. Right? That's what it comes down to, most of the time, when discussions about sex and relationships devolve from the details to prosaic convenience. And maybe it's true, and maybe it's even okay, but it's an idea that becomes much darker when it's applied, invariably, to the memoir.
Complicated girls have been well-served by the Internet, where Twitter and Tumblr thwart the dude-centric paradigms of traditional media, but the memoir remains the only legitimate way to write life stories.
And, just as women aren't allowed to perform comedy, play rock and roll and be in the world with the same veracity as men, memoirs about the emotional lives of women are routinely evaluated as self-absorbed and solipsistic.
"If a woman writes about herself, she's a narcissist. If a man does the same, he's describing the human condition," writer Emily Gould said in an interview with New York magazine, summarizing what it comes down to most - all - of the time.
Contemporary memoirs increasingly provide the details of the author's most private life, usually some combination of drug abuse, alcoholism, eating disorders and sexual vagrancy, but when male writers do it, they've fallen, been saved and resurrected. The women have just fallen.
And so it will go for British novelist, screenwriter and now memoirist Emma Forrest. More so, because Forrest isn't just an ex-cutter, ex-bulimic, ex-crazy; she's also the ex-girlfriend of the Irish libertine and Hollywood actor Colin Farrell, who is only and woundingly referred to here as "GH" for "gypsy husband." While Your Voice in My Head is ostensibly about Forrest's suicide attempt and the relationship she has (or, imagines) with her psychiatrist "Dr. R." before and after he suddenly dies, Forrest's subject is herself, inextricably bound to both men and then endangered when they leave her, one for death and one for an actress.
This book follows her novels Namedropper, Thin Skin and Cherries in the Snow, which I and other twentysomething disaffecteds read half-sunk in lukewarm bathwater, searching for instruction and connection with her characters, all of them good bad girls, messy and wanting. Forrest is stylish and evocative; whether she is sick and listless in New York or sex-dipped and radiantly happy in Los Angeles, she writes it cool, clever and ravaging, in very few strokes.
Of her cutting, Forrest writes "There's still a fresh flower on my upper right thigh and I can tell from the nonchalant reaction of bikini waxers that they've become used to this sort of thing: girls who want to prettify and uglify, and cannot find a difference - like that hypothetical circle where communism meets fascism." Of her eating disorder: "Bulimia is the wicked twin of orgasm. The penetration, obviously, the loss of control. It is la petite mort." Forrest treats her life as though it's worth examination, as though being sad is gigantic and worth being immersed in, unapologetically. Which, of course, it is.
Still, there's a dissonance between Forrest's divulgences of her fragile psyche and busted heart and the reasons provided - or not provided - for them. The book includes a weird passivity about why Forrest is like this; the drama of cutting and disordered eating and emotional subjugation are revelled in unproductively, considered in the same vaguely curious way that the curve and colour of a lower lip might be in the reflection of a bus window.
Eventual maturity and psychological work pulls Forrest away from cutting and bulimia, from the dual obsessions with her boyfriend and shrink, but the satisfaction of her writing is undermined by the lack of engagement in which of the many, many reasons might be responsible for these girl-centric violences, as constantly shocking as they are banal.
Being a "messed-up girl" is an experience of being too much: too smart, too sexy, too crazy, too broken, too demanding. And Forrest's memoir succeeds by including the discursive too-much-ness of all that love and sanity. Her story is crushing and complicated, and entirely common. While its recounting provides a convenient forum for readers and critics to incorrectly translate the pain and glory of girldom into something shameful, what they should know, what the too-much girls like Forrest know already, is that it's not. It's gorgeous.
Kate Carraway writes the advice column "Thirtyish" for EYE Weekly in Toronto.