Published by Hawthorne Books
Publication date: August 7th 2012
Seventeen is no place to be. You want to get out, you want to shake off a self like old dead skin. You want to take how things are and chuck it like a rock.
And guess what? If it’s bad for you, the only way to alleviate the pain is to make it that much worse for everyone around you and at that, Dora is a champion. Ida is her birth name but Dora is the name she gives herself. This is one angry, violently intelligent teenager. Her life sucks no matter how you slice it- her father is having an affair with the woman whose husband molested Dora and her mother is a zoned out pillhead drunk, despite Dora’s feelings that: She wasn’t always a melted face. My mother, I mean. She used to be wicked smart. Read all kinds of books.
In an effort to ‘help’ her, or at least get her out of their hair, her parents send her to a shrink she calls, Siggy, a man for whom she feels such disdain that she records their sessions then reworks them into audio/video art. In her mind she is flipping the tables on him and she continues to do so in such increasing measure that he ends up in the ER, after she doses him with 10 hits of Viagra, all of which she records while disguised. The plot continues apace with all the attendant motion and mayhem of riding in a stolen car. You’re energized but also pretty sure you need to throw up.
The plot of Dora: A Headcase is based on Sigmund Freud’s famous case study of female hysteria and his patient, Dora. Yuknavitch takes this starting point, coats it in napalm and throws it at the reader, then stands back to watch. It is harsh, wickedly clever, intense reading. Like Clockwork Orange, Dora and her cadre of freaks have their own language, peppered with compound hyphenated words and explicit sexual references. Depending on your mindset there are scenes and words in this book that you will either find filthy or sexually liberated.
Dora: A Headcase is not for everyone. I’m not qualified to say where it stands in the pantheon of contemporary literature and how important is its message. It is painful to read, especially the scenes where Dora turns her anger on herself with cutting. It is also sweetly beautiful when the hormonal overdrive and teen angst combine to reveal such thoughts as
Wanna know the difference between adult wisdom and young adult wisdom? You have the ability to look back at your past and interpret it. I have the ability to look at my present and live it with my whole body.
Dora/Ida may be as real as it gets for teens today, the anger that drips off every sentence like arsenic. The isolation, the lack of any connection with adults- didn’t we all go through that? Yes, and while this novel reads like my teen years amped up on meth, the underlying fear, loneliness and uncertainty are the same.
Jeff Baker, from the Oregonian, interviewed Yuknavitch about writing the book. Here is her answer to the question why she chose Freud and Dora as the basis for the novel: Too though, I teach young women and men at community college. All the tremor and pulse and rage and love they are walking around with — all its destructive and creative force — I wanted to write an homage to them. How they survive. How they make it.