Rat Girl (Review)

Kristin Hersh [Penguin Books]

Nov 24, 2010 at 2:06 pm

Kristin Hersh is a known quantity in the Alt-Rock orbit as a solo artist and through her role in the groups Throwing Muses and 50 Foot Wave. Given her extraordinary productivity, perhaps it is not too surprising to see Hersh author a book, and Rat Girl is actually her second of three, starting with 2007’s children’s book Toby Snax and succeeded by the hardcover book edition of her album Crooked that appeared the day after Rat Girl hit the stands.

Tempting as it might be to adopt a dismissive stance owing to such seeming prolixity this is anything but an ordinary “memoir.”

Exploring Hersh’s coming-of-age experiences in the mid-1980s, Rat Girl is fashioned in the manner of a novel, sprinkled with journal entries and bits of lyrics for added color. The story is compelling; Hersh’s preternatural talents as a musician and her group, Throwing Muses, attract attention from major music industry interests even as Hersh was just starting college.

Despite her enviable fortune, Hersh’s world comes crashing down as an unplanned pregnancy and her increasing bi-polarity gets in the way. The tone of the book is oddly reminiscent of William S. Burroughs’ Junky in its undisguised honesty, absolute lack of apology, blunt sarcasm and biting tone — yet it isn't dispassionate as was Burroughs. Hersh is totally involved in Rat Girl, and so will be its readers.

This reviewer has known a number of talented women who would have loved to have drawn from the recesses of their teen diaries a fine book like this, and Rat Girl will likely not speak of all of them. Nevertheless, Hersh speaks very well for herself, and Rat Girl seems to have the makings of a classic. It’s definitely a good read. Grade: A-