Book: I’m Dancing As Fast As I Can
1. It was in the “free” pile at the library.
2. I’m inexplicably drawn to bad 70s-era books.
3. The blurb on the back cover: “It’s a wonderful story, the kind of real personal adventure that reads like the best fiction. Here is an incredible heroine who was at the top of her field, a TV producer with a marvelous lover, plenty of money, good health and a lot of talent and luck. Then, suddenly, Barbara Gordon’s life fell to pieces. Her equilibrium was shattered when she stopped taking tranquilizers. She became the victim of the man she loved, and he became her captor. How she survived this personal disaster and, in fact, triumphed to build a new life is a remarkable true tale. Every contemporary woman will respond to this passionately told truth, marveling at the power of this very human story.”
Who wouldn’t want to read this? I’m a contemporary woman! I want to respond to this passionately told truth!
Well, I responded, but probably not in the way the blurb suggested.
Let me ask you: Does it say anything about mental health, or mental hospitals, or really bad writing, anywhere in here? Nope. It does not. However, those things make up the majority of this book.
Barbara Gordon was an Emmy-award-winning TV producer, focusing on making hard-hitting documentaries. She had problems with anxiety, sure, but what modern woman doesn’t? She also had some back surgery. Her doctor prescribed Valium for both these afflictions. And, like any modern woman, she took the Valium regularly, as prescribed, without realizing that she was becoming addicted to it. Eventually she decided to quit the drug cold-turkey. And that’s when the trouble started. Within hours of quitting, the anxiety attacks began. Within days, she began to lose herself completely.
(Dr. Terri says that this part is true: quitting Valium cold turkey can induce psychosis and seizures. Don’t try this at home, kids)
Added to the withdrawal, her lover Eric turns out to be sort of psycho himself. Becoming her caretaker as she descended into psychosis, Eric’s own issues are triggered and he begins to play horrible emotional mind games with her, and eventually holds her captive in her apartment. Barbara eventually figures out that Eric is a bad guy and finds a way to tell her friends that she is being held captive. This is around page 76. After her friends rescue her, on around page 77, the rest of the book is about Barbara’s “adventures” (as the blurb calls it) in various mental institutions. So that’s about…275 pages of story that isn’t mentioned in the blurb.
I’m curious as to why this is. My edition was published in 1979. Was mental illness so taboo then that people didn’t even want to read about it in their trashy beach books? Why not mention that most of the book is about her struggle with withdrawal-induced psychosis? The part about being held captive by her boyfriend was only about 15 pages long.
By the way, Eric gets away with it. He moves away, she never presses charges, and her doctors tell her, “Well, maybe you two can work it out later when you’re well.” Now THAT’S crazy.
Some choice passages from the book, “…She’s only a psychologist. She isn’t Jewish. She’s from St. Louis. What can she know of my particular brand of urban angst, of Jewish neurosis? What can she know of my pain, this cool WASP beauty?”
and, “If you have ever flirted with the idea that a couple of weeks in a ‘sanatorium’ might not be so terrible — that it could be just the place to recharge your tired psyche, tune up your system and just hang out languidly sipping white wine, reading Keats, and taking long walks with a doctor who looks like Gregory Peck and Robert Redford combined — reconsider.”
Good to know. Because here I was, thinking I could just check myself into a mental institution and have white wine and Robert Redford.
Well, it was kind of awesomely bad. On a serious note, her story is, of course, horrifying. But the writing was so flat and unemotional, and it was made into an 80s movie, for goodness’ sake. (was it flat and unemotional because she is still recovering on some level from the psychosis?)
This bring me to another question: why is so much of 1970s-era pop writing so bad? The style of writing really reminds me of Ira Levin, who wrote both Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives. Flat, unemotional, faux-hip, short sentences, little description. Was it a trend at the time?
Anyway. I had to check out part of the movie online (I’m Dancing As Fast As I Can, starring Jill Clayburgh) and it was pretty dang bad. Although I’m tempted to add it to my weekend of trashy books-turned-movies. The Valley of the Dolls, The Thorn Birds, and I’m Dancing As Fast As I Can. You bring the white wine, I’ll bring the Keats.