Airless Spaces

Shulamith Firestone

Passable, Not Presentable
She remembered the time before she had gotten sick. When it was a challenge to dress, how good it felt to look just right and be certain of one’s appearance. Then came losing her looks in the hospital, and the ghastly difference it made in the way she was received; the way people turned away from her after one glance in the street. And the slow climb back, trying to disguise the stiffness in her gait, and the drooling moronic look on her face that came from the medication. Perhaps this was why the mentally disabled always seemed so bland-looking as a group: they had to strive to look orginary, the “pass.” That little bit of extra aplomb that made one stand out of the crowd was beyond them.

Short stories, often as brief as one or two paragraphs (as the one above), about people who find themselves in and out of mental hospitals. Though theoretically fiction, they are clearly written directly from Shulamith Firestone’s own experiences, and Susan Faludi referred to them as “autobiographical vignettes” in her posthumous profile of Firestone, “Death of a Revolutionary.” Together they are banal and hopeless, delivered in a deadpan manner. The sections follow a suggestive sequence: Hospital, Post-Hospital, Losers, Obits, Suicides I Have Known — yet there is an element of humor underneath.