Book Review: Cambridge by Susanna Kaysen

Cambridge by Susanna Kaysen
Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group on 2014
Genres: Biographical, Family Life, Fiction, Literary
Pages: 272
Format: eARC
Source: Knopf Doubleday Publishing

It was probably because I was so often taken away from Cambridge when I was young that I loved it as much as I did . . .”

So begins this novel-from-life by the best-selling author of Girl, Interrupted, an exploration of memory and nostalgia set in the 1950s among the academics and artists of Cambridge, Massachusetts.

I received this book for free from Knopf Doubleday Publishing in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

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My Review:

I had high hopes for Cambridge by Susanna Kaysen.   I should have paid closer attention, however, to the summary because I usually read them in advance, just to be sure, but I didn’t in this case because I was too enamored by the beautiful cover.  So, instead, I read it just before cracking the book and it put a bad taste in my mouth.

You see, I don’t like feeling as if the author has put herself into a fictionalized story, no matter how loosely based it is.  I’ve never liked that, with any author I’ve read that has attempted it.  I’ve always felt that if a story needed to be told that closely resembled the life of the person telling the story, then make a creative non-fiction with it.  Don’t try to market it as fiction.  Why do I feel that way?  Because ultimately the title character, Susanna, in this book came off as self-important, a bit whiny, and really.. she was all over the place.

Over and over I kept thinking about how privileged she was and how she showed so little gratitude for the things she had that she took for granted. Sure, I can understand a feeling of unhomeliness, the idea of being caught between places and not sure where you belong, but it just seemed a bit over the top in this story.  Susanna traveled all over the world throughout this story and the result? She feels like an outsider in the place she considers to be her “home.”  I just had a really hard time buying it – especially considering the age at which it all began.

Another reason I had a hard time with this story, why it was such a hard sell for me, is that I am surrounded by military kids here in Hawai’i.  I see them come and go and come again (when orders are cancelled or family life resolves itself) and you don’t see books written by those children in the guise of fiction, talking about feeling like an outsider in their home port.  This is something that happens to so many children in the world – and those are the ones who are fortunate enough to have parents with jobs and a life that involves seeing the world.

So, as you can gather, Cambridge just didn’t work for me.  I was bored and annoyed with the main character and really didn’t give a flip by the end of the book about what she felt.  Maybe if the book had gone a different way, approached as a coming-of-age story influenced by the different cultures she experienced, it would have worked better.  Sure, that may not have happened in the life of the author, but … then… this is a fictional story, right?

Check out these reviews!

  • “I’d say it’s probably best to start with another of Kaysen’s books before picking up this one.” –  S. Krishna’s Books
  • ‘”A poignant reminder of the importance of stability and home, the tale kept me engaged. ” – An Interior Journey

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