Originally published in 2011 by Fiction Studio Books, Leora Skolkin Smith’s Hystera (winner of the Global E-Books Award and the USA Book Award in Fiction) will be re-released on September 10 by The Story Plant. In this slim but brutal novel, Lillian Weill blames herself for the fatal accident that takes her father away. Tripping through failed love affairs and doomed friendships, all Lilly wants is shelter and peace. She retreats into a world of delusion and lands in a New York City psychiatric hospital; Hystera charts her journey into the darkest hell of self—and back again. Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough talked with Smith about Patty Hearst, mental illness and the old city of Jerusalem.
Yona Zeldis McDonough: This is an unflinching portrait of mental illness; what drew you to the subject?
Leora Skolkin Smith: I was drawn to writing about mental illness by the popular medical and cultural presentations of it. I felt that the continual oversimplifications in the media threw more darkness than light onto this disturbing and beguiling state of human behavior and ultimately silenced the cries from those in the throes of it. In recent years, the use of drugs such Prozac have been described in memoirs and accounts of depression but I felt this was only a partial, inadequate answer. I wanted a deeper exploration, one that was not based on easy resolution or being “fixed,” but instead engages philosophical and sexual questions of existence itself, as well as questions about identity and intimacy that transcend our purely medical and limited understanding. I wanted to show that mental illness is part of a continuum of human experience throughout history.