HYSTERIA by Jessica Gross
Unnamed Press, August 18, 2020
Hysteria belongs to a Marmite subset of literary fiction that I like to call ‘books about disaster women’. (Other disaster women books include, for example: The Pisces, My Year of Rest and Relaxation, Almost Love.) These books tend to feature young women in their 20s-30s who have abrasive personalities and make poor decisions and have a lot of casual sex usually for the wrong reasons. If you do not enjoy disaster women books, you will not like Hysteria, it’s important to get that out of the way. This will not be the book to change your mind and embrace this whole subgenre if it’s something you’ve henceforth found uninteresting or repulsive.
But with that said, if you do enjoy disaster women books, it’s a damn good one. In Hysteria we follow an unnamed narrator living in Brooklyn, who goes into her local bar one day and discovers a new bartender has just started working there; she becomes compelled by him and starts to believe that he is none other than Sigmund Freud.
Hysteria is short, punchy, and shocking. The way Jessica Gross juxtaposes the narrator’s meditations on sexual desire and meditations on daughterhood are uncomfortable to the extreme – I’m trying to avoid using the word oedipal in this review as I know that isn’t an enticing prospect for most people – but what works is that Gross’s writing never tips into gratuitousness. It isn’t provocative for the sake of being provocative; she actually does have incisive points to make as she simultaneously celebrates and interrogates the narrator’s lasciviousness. Not a book for everyone but highly recommended to those who it appeals to.
Thank you to Unnamed Press for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.
You can preorder a copy of Hysteria from the publisher here (not an affiliate link).