" Lights On, Rats Out is unlike anything I've ever read--a powerfully, staggeringly honest book that is excruciating in places, and also completely haunting. LeFavour's intimate account of her relationship with her psychiatrist is intensely compelling, forthright, and brave. Read more...
"Lights On, Rats Out is unlike anything I've ever read--a powerfully, staggeringly honest book that is excruciating in places, and also completely haunting. LeFavour's intimate account of her relationship with her psychiatrist is intensely compelling, forthright, and brave. Did he overstep? Was he somehow pulled in by her beyond what was therapeutically appropriate or helpful? This is a fascinating memoir in a category of its own."--Dani Shapiro As a young college graduate a year into treatment with a psychiatrist, Cree LeFavour began to organize her days around the cruel, compulsive logic of self-harm: with each newly lit cigarette, the world would drop away as her focus narrowed on the blooming release of pleasure-pain as the burning tip was applied to an unblemished patch of skin. Her body was a canvas of cruelty; each scar a mark of pride and shame. In sharp and shocking language, Lights On, Rats Out brings us closely into these years. We see the world as Cree did--turned upside down, the richness of life muted and dulled, its pleasures perverted. The heady thrill of meeting with her psychiatrist, Dr. Adam N. Kohl--whose relationship with Cree is at once sustaining and paralyzing--comes to be the only bright spot in her days. Lights On, Rats Out describes a fiercely smart and independent woman's charged attachment to a mental health professional and the dangerous compulsion to keep him in her life at all costs.
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.