The work Cree LeFavour has done—in therapy and in this stunning new memoir—rebuilds a damaged and fragmented self. But for most of Lights On, Rats Out, the reader races forward, worried that LeFavour and her therapist, called Dr. Kohl here, won’t be able to stop her self-destruction. Her chosen weapon is cigarettes, using them to inflict third-degree burns on her own body.
After a childhood in the hippie bohemia of Woody Park, Colorado, a post-college LeFavour pretends she’s just fine, despite the fact that her father abandoned the family to open a fabulous Napa Valley restaurant, leaving LeFavour and her sister in the alcoholic neglect of their mother. Living alone by age 13, she’s exposed to the over-sexualized 1970s without parental guidance. In her early 20s, LeFavour’s careful facade begins to crack: Isolation, binge eating and long hours of reading no longer keep her safe from her psychological demons.
Entering therapy with Dr. Kohl, LeFavour initially spirals into the compulsive rituals of self-harm. An institutionalization—vividly portrayed here—doesn’t appear to help. What does help, however, are the careful boundaries Dr. Kohl helps LeFavour gradually draw around herself. LeFavour’s portrayal of the dramatic exchanges between herself and Dr. Kohl is the best literary depiction of psychological transference I have ever read, including Freud’s Dora.
If all this sounds dramatic and intense, it is—and perhaps this memoir, with literary antecedents in Henry James and Sylvia Plath, isn’t for everyone. But LeFavour’s wry humor and whip-smart, bookish references create a brilliant portrait of a certain kind of young American: intelligent, sensitive and wounded.