Hesitation Wounds
by Amy Koppelman



Overlook Press, Peter Mayer Publishers, Inc., 2015. ISBN 978-1-468-31218-8.
Reviewed by Diane Stanton
Posted on 08/25/2016

Fiction: Literary

As I began reading Hesitation Wounds, it was a challenge to establish the various characters and their relationships to the narrator. But Amy Koppelman's writing was so exquisite—so finely detailed and richly expressive and engaging—that I soon became absorbed in the words and mental processes of Koppelman's narrator, Dr. Susa Selinger.

Susa is a psychiatrist who specializes in treatment-resistant depression through the use of drugs and electroconvulsive therapy—and, she emphatically claims, "not words" and feelings. Told through flashback and mental commentary, the book is essentially an extended meditation and mental conversation of Susa and her deceased brother, Dan. Slipping easily back and forth between the present and the past, Koppelman weaves details of her middle age life with those of her youth and seeks to resolve the grief of past and present loss. She analyzes her failing relationship with her husband and her motherly instincts against those of her roles as sister and daughter and doctor. Her world implodes when "Jim Archer came through my office door and all the years of subjugated thought and reflexive denial conflated. The past and the present began to complicate one another."

Jim reminds Susa of Dan, and her rules of detached treatment crumble as Susa recognizes them as "an amateur ploy used to distract me from my very existence." In prose that is both lyrical and poetic, Koppelman leads us through Susa's mental processes and her resolution of past, present, and future. We are privy to her contemplations of "the valley of hope, a contaminated moat filled with alligators and razor blades..."

The story told in Hesitation Wounds intensely emotional but remarkably bereft of melodrama. I found it to be powerfully compelling and satisfying reading experience.


Amy Koppelman is the author of two critically acclaimed novels, A Mouthful of Air and I Smile Back. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania, and an MFA in fiction from Columbia University. Koppelman and her screenwriting partner adapted I Smile Back for the screen. The film, starring Sarah Silverman, premiered at the 2015 Sundance, Toronto and Deauville Film Festivals. Amy lives in New York City with her family. She is an outspoken advocate for women's mental health. Visit her website.

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