"Hystera is a haunting, mesmerizing story of madness, longing and identity, set against one of the most fascinating times in NYC history. Skolkin-Smith's alchemy is to inhabit her characters even as she crafts a riveting story that is nothing short of brilliant."
– Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of Pictures of You
“In language with the wild power of accuracy, Hystera maps a path through the landscape of trauma and illness, the feverish news of the seventies, and a character’s own indelibly vivid imagery of alarm and comfort. An eye-opening novel.”
– Joan Silber, author of Ideas of Heaven: A Ring of Stories, finalist for the National Book Award
"Leora Skolkin-Smith's new novel, Hystera, provides a very vivid sense of being in the head of someone having a psychotic breakdown, and is a powerfully useful reference book for dealing with the mental-health system. It also pungently evokes the gritty New York of the '70s."
– Robert Whitcomb, The Providence Journal
Set in the turbulent 1970s when Patty Hearst became Tanya the Revolutionary, HYSTERA is a timeless story of madness, yearning, and identity. After a fatal accident takes her father away, Lillian Weill blames herself for the family tragedy. Tripping through failed love affairs with men and doomed friendships, all Lilly wants is to be sheltered from reality. She retreats from the outside world into a world of delusion and the private terrors of a New York City Psychiatric Hospital.
How do we know who we really are? How do we find our true selves under the heavy burden of family and our pasts? In an unpredictable portrait of mental illness, HYSTERA penetrates to the pulsing heart of the questions.
WINNER: GLOBAL E-BOOK AWARDS, USA BOOK AWARDS IN FICTION
FINALIST: INTERNATIONAL BOOK AWARDS, INDIE EXCELLENCE AWARDS
Lillian Weill, a student and spiritual alchemist in 1970s New York City, is haunted by the trauma of her father's strokes, which left him permanently brain-damaged. Having not come to her father's aid, Lillian feels partially responsible. The novel's action dips in and out of the past, but focuses mainly on the events leading up to Lilly's own hospitalization. Lost in her world of delusion, readers are bombarded with a redundancy of images; her father's accident and memories of her overbearing, Israeli mother are dredged up too often, and Skolkin-Smith (The Fragile Mistress) is constantly rephrasing the extent of Lilly's psychosis. Though many of Skolkin-Smith's sentences are poetic, strange, and evocative, the action is hard to believe and the characters lack depth. As in a Romantic novel where ladies faint due to the slightest provocation and die from ennui, Lilly's maladies are hyperbolic, wide ranging, and hard to name. While the symptoms of psychosis are multivalent, the unexplained manifestations of a pre-feminist "hysteria" which, as the author points out, is Greek for "the wandering uterus" strain the story's verisimilitude. At best, the book is a poignant prose poem, testing the limits of the reader's associations as the narrative spirals inward, but eventually burns out.