The 20 women whose essays are featured each tell a story of self-harm, usually a self-destructive stage within the first 25 years of the contributor’s life. The stories range from cutting to cocaine and heroin addiction to breast cancer. Having fairly recently reached the other side of those first 25 years (I’m 27), while I was reading most of these essays I was reminded of a night a few years ago. I was a college freshman sitting at a bar with a new girl-crush, a 24-year-old hipster writer from Toronto who had a lover — not a boyfriend. Over beers, I told her that I had just begun to feel that I was winning the “battle” over anorexia. I explained, in a conspiratorially low voice, that I had lost a tooth and some hair a couple of years ago when it was really bad, but that therapy seemed to be helping, although I was still obsessed with calorie-counting. After a few sentences, she cut me off. “Yeah, I had anorexia, too. Everyone had anorexia in high school.” In other words, as one of her ironic thrift-store t-shirts might have put it, “Shit Happens.” I realized wondrously that I was boring her.
That anecdote’s not meant to imply that the Live Through This essayists don’t have some harrowing stories to tell. (Leagues more harrowing than my tale ever was, in case we’re keeping score.) Their self-destructive phases shaped their lives and, in some cases, vitalized or revitalized their art. But the narratives they construct, told in the same conspiratorial, soul-baring tones I used at the bar that night, have a cringe-worthy tendency toward self-exploitation. They are hackneyed tales of distressed damsels, the only twist being that the perpetrator and the victim are one in the same. The editor, Sabrina Chapadjiev, writes, “The actual act of self-destruction is something that repulses those who do not understand it.” But, for those of us who do understand “the actual act,” a book that revels in every gory detail of my gender’s masochistic leanings (the one exceptional bright spot being Diane DiMassa, the only contributor who uses her absurd sense of humor to strike the perfect note), makes for a yawn-fest of pre- and post-feminism jargon.