[10 June 2003]
Pain—has an Element of Blank—
It cannot recollect
When it begun—or if there were
A time when it was not—.
Emily Dickinson, “Pain—has an Element of Blank”
Anne Heche, more known for her high profile affair with Ellen DeGeneres and her subsequent nervous breakdown—when she stumbled into a modest East L.A. home, proclaimed herself the second coming of Christ, and discussed the impending arrival of her alien friends—than for her acting roles, might seem a Hollywood hanger-on to some. No one could deny, however, that Heche’s life—riddled with childhood abuse, lesbianism, and insanity—holds a lurid fascination. Presumably, Heche’s recent memoir Call Me Crazy is meant to capitalize on this appeal.
Those looking for light entertainment in Heche’s autobiography, however, will not find it. The book foregoes celebrity gossip, barely mentions Ellen, and is noticeably short on salacious details; instead, Heche tackles the subject of her life with seriousness and sincerity. The end result is a rambling, self-interested tale of redemption and healing that resembles an extended session on a psychiatrist’s couch, replete with new-age affirmations and psychobabble. Readers will be hard-pressed to find any sort of narrative, character development, or style in Heche’s muddle of self-discovery. Nevertheless, her book is raw, seemingly uncensored, and troubling in its exploration of the harm caused by childhood abuse.
Anne Heche was born into a dysfunctional family, to say the least. Her father sexually molested her throughout her childhood, and she contracted herpes from him. Her mother, a zealous Christian, instructed her in shame, guilt, and denial. The early portion of the book is about Heche’s childhood. She writes:
My mother’s father was dying and she spent most of her days crying. Dad was off all the time and our money was on a tight line. Nothing was coming in, which was something close to sin; the children were crabby, my herpes were scabby. We were all getting sick, the walls of denial so thick. It was bad and getting worse and things stolen from Mom’s purse; it was all crashing down, there was no smile only frown. It was all stinking bad and we were all really sad . . .
Horrendous rhyme scheme aside, Heche’s descriptions of her childhood are unnerving. Fortunately for her, she managed to escape her familial home at a young age to join the cast of the soap opera Another World.
As a young actress, Heche traded the Christian god for the god of modern psychology, and most of her autobiography chronicles her subsequent journey of self-discovery. Heche realized, through therapy, that she had spent all of her young adult life reeling from the pain of her past. In the book, she even links the two things that the reader might find most interesting, her acting career and her insanity, to twisted efforts to win the love of her mother and her now deceased father:
Knowing that my mother’s only purpose was to love Jesus made me understand that unless I was Jesus, I wouldn’t receive her love . . . So my dad loved movie stars and my mother loved Jesus. Dead people could love me, this I knew from the song, so I still had hope of getting what I wanted from my father. Jesus or movie star? Jesus or movie star? After careful and unconscious debate, I tackled the easier challenge first.
This type of self-revelation is not what one would expect from a young, glamorous Hollywood celebrity, but this is how Anne Heche views her life; and she has certainly spent a lot of time examining it.
Call Me Crazy is an in-depth analysis of the ramifications of childhood sexual abuse; and Heche’s story, as well as the stories of other survivors, do deserve attention. As a memoir, however, this book—devoid of literary merit, good storytelling, or effective editing—falls flat.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/call-me-crazy/