“Rat Girl” by Kristin Hersh


Every once in a while, my husband urges a book on me. He doesn’t do it often. This might be to his credit, but he admitted recently it’s a comparative scale. He really wants me to read Cloud Atlas so he can re-read it and we can watch the film together. So everything he reads that he wants to recommend, he asks, do I want her to read it more than I want her to read Cloud Atlas? In rare cases, the answer is yes, as with Rat Girl by Kristin Hersh.

If Americans thought music and art belonged together, they wouldn’t have the Grammys.

Rat Girl is Hersh’s memoir of 1985. She was enrolled in college but homeless by choice, and a member of a rising band in the Boston punk scene. She also had increasing mental difficulties tied to a childhood car accident.

She refers to her half sister, Tea, who in real life is her stepsister Tanya Donnelly, who went on to The Breeders and Belly. We also get to meet Betty, Kristin’s classmate at college before she moves to Boston with the band. Betty is older and claims to have a colorful Hollywood past. The reader, like Kristin, wonders throughout if Betty is crazy, a liar, or telling the truth.

Two significant things happen in the last part of the book. Unfortunately, I found them detailed on the book cover, and would much rather have been surprised by them unfolding. So if you read the book, try not to read about it.

With its evocative prose-poetry, detailing of the rising punk scene, and magical realism, the book reminded me strongly of Francesca Lia Block’s Dangerous Angels series of young-adult novels, which began with Weetzie Bat.

I am abashed to say I dragged my feet when my husband suggested it. I didn’t particularly care for the music of Throwing Muses, or Hersh’s voice. So it was interesting to read that Hersh doesn’t think she has a good singing voice, and is surprised by the band’s success. They wrote songs for themselves; that other people liked them too was a bonus.

I enjoyed getting insight into Hersh’s post-trauma brain, and her lovely and disturbing creative process.

2 Responses to ““Rat Girl” by Kristin Hersh”

  1. Jennifer Reese Says:

    I’m sorry to continue our short conversation (about Lit) on this post, but the comments are closed on Lit. I can’t remember why I ended up disliking DFW after the biography, but I was lying on the bed in this bad hotel in New York City in the middle of the night, closed the book, thought, shoot, that just took all the air out of my enthusiasm for DFW. I’m sure he was a lovely person if you actually knew him. Having forgotten the details of my disillusionment, I’d now be into trying to read Infinite Jest with a group. I was trying to get my friend to do a Proust reading together, but she’s so far found the offer resistible. I’m not currently in a book group, but it’s been great reading things concurrently with this one friend.
    I did read Dry. Yikes.

  2. girldetective Says:

    Jennifer, sorry to have to close comments but if I didn’t, the spam would take over and sometimes it almost does that anyway.

    About a group reading of IJ. I’m thinking of leading an Infinite Summer next year, in the summer solstice-autumn equinox form it’s been done in before and that got me to read it for the first time. When I do, it’ll push me to read both the Ghost Story book, and the Lipsky book which I bought but never read and is the one being turned into a movie. And I’m ashamed to admit I’ve actually read little else by DFW, and always mean to read A Supposedly Fun Thing.