Hystera, The Acclaimed New Novel by Leora Skolkin-Smith

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A Story of Mental Illness in a Young Woman in 1974

The extraordinary new novel by Leora Skolkin-Smith


Set in the turbulent 1970s when Patty Hearst became Tanya the Revolutionary, Leora Skolkin-Smith's 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. Unreachable behind her thick wall of fears, the world of hospital corridors and strangers become a vessel of faith. She is a foreigner there until her fellow patients release her from her isolation with the power of human intimacy. 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.


"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”, Reviewer of PEOPLE Magazine, The New York Times, and Boston Globe.

“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.

“Inside a psychiatric ward in the 1970's, Leora Skolkin-Smith's HYSTERA takes you on a ride through the wilderness of a young woman's emotional trauma and breakdown, and seizes upon the intricacies of mental health, our phobias, and fears around it. Brilliantly envisioned, this story of passion and familial dysfunction, bears witness to an exquisite reknitting of a young woman's soul, told in language that is brave, startling, an ultimately tender and wise."
--Jessica Keener, author of Night Swim

"Leora Skolkin-Smith's novel Hystera is an unforgettable story of mental illness. Set in the New York City of the 1970s, the book is told in precise language that sears the characters into your consciousness."
--LargeHearted Boy

“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, reviewer “The Providence Journal”

“Some might say all writers of fiction are a bit crazy. The statement may hold some truth if we note how much we like to follow the creative paths of fellow writers. I admit to being one of those.

Leora Skolkin-Smith's "Hystera" does not disappoint on that count. But it offers so much more.

Like most literary novels, it reads as if details are strongly influenced by real memories. Real as they feel, the narrator has committed herself to a psychiatric ward, so she is not a reliable source for judging reality. The lush, and somehow still subtle allusions to sex and body and her own past experiences, leave us not quite sure what conclusions the author intended the reader to make. Even an occasional syntax oddity ("Helen never explained why she stopped going back to her old house in Jerusalem, taking Lilly with her, but only that she could no longer recognize the places of her youth there anymore by 1960."), leaves us with uncertainty, similar--surely--to what the protagonist is going through.

Even descriptions about the protagonist's mother's preoccupation with the ancient craft of book binding is imbued with mystery. The subjects of this binding are written in ancient Hebrew and Aramaic texts and "Alchemical symbols" are the subjects this refurbishing is intended to preserve.

At it's root, "Hystera" is a story about shame, shame that lurks in the recesses of our psyches, shame imposed on us by parents, culture, and ourselves. A Universal Shame. Puritannical as well as Hebraic. Guilt no one generation, race, or religion can lay claim to.

I loved this book because it was about a writer, of course. But I also loved it because of the writing itself--the amazing techniques that can be observed--learned from--if the reader doesn't get too caught up in the forward motion of the story and the tone of the book not to pay attention.
---- Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Reviewer, Author’s Den


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