10th Oct 2012
Beautiful Wreck by Stephanie Schroeder
With a background in journalism, activism and erotic fiction, Stephanie Schroeder‘s memoir Beautiful Wreck: Sex, Lies & Suicide was always going to be a riveting read. And it is, but not necessarily in the ways you’d expect.
An extremely up-close-and-personal emotional rollercoaster ride, Schroeder’s account of her highs and lows is brave, honest and unflinching. She is a frank and authentic narrator with a candid and compelling voice, laying out her confusions, frustrations and fantasies without pretence.
She chronicles her early days working on a fruit-picking farm in Wisconsin to her arrival in New York in 1990, aged twenty-five. From there, the peaks and troughs of her mental illness become even more pronounced.
Diagnosed with Tourette’s, bipolar disorder and depression, Schroeder has the unenviable task of negotiating her way through complicated healthcare systems and a turbulent home life, while at the same time trying hard to stay alive and discover who she is.
Recounting periods of domestic violence and abuse, suicide attempts, political activism, parenthood and 9/11, parts of Beautiful Wreck are potentially triggering, but Schroeder remains resilient and upfront.
While not everyone will have been in the situations she describes, there are elements for every reader to recognise and relate to, from Stephanie’s financial struggles to the tension between expectations to climb the corporate ranks and the quest for creative integrity.
In places the pacing is uneven; some episodes are described down to the last detail while others are glossed over in simplistic summary, though this may be down to the highly personal and potentially painful nature of the experiences Schroeder describes.
Overall, though, Beautiful Wreck is heartbreaking and awe-inducing in its courage and honesty, showcasing not only the author’s narrative and emotive skills but also her bravery, sincerity and strength.
Other recommended reading: For more tales of queer survival against the odds, investigate Ivan Coyote‘s short story collection, Missed Her. For a powerful anthology of essays about creativity, mental health and self-destruction, track down Live Through This, edited by Sabrina Chapadijev.
For a more multi-cultural and theatrical take, try the Obie award-winning play, For Coloured Girls Who Have Considered Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf by Ntozake Shange. For more from Stephanie, check out cult queer classic That’s Revolting, which features one of her essays. Stephanie is also a contributing editor to Curve Magazine.