cover image City of Incurable Women

City of Incurable Women

Maud Casey. Bellevue, $16.99 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-1-942658-86-3

Casey’s enlightening latest (after The Man Who Walked Away) imagines the lives of female “hysterics” confined at the Salpêtrière, a 19th-century psychiatric hospital in Paris. The work, unshackled from traditional elements such as plot, characters, or earned endings, alternately reads like a prose poem, a fever dream, and a compendium of primary sources. Casey wanders among the thoughts and histories of a chambermaid, a foundling, and a seamstress, juxtaposing their motives, thoughts, and dreams with accounts of their rapes by previous employers and sexual exploitation by their doctors who “disguise it as science,” as well as the dehumanizing doctors’ case notes, which mention tattooing the patients with the name of the hospital. The first-person plural narration, meanwhile, blurs the women’s identities (“None of us wanted to fall, but then we were falling”). Illuminating illustrations and references to the real people who inspired the story add texture to a distressing account of a dark history, and Casey’s rich imaginative leaps make for tantalizing and affecting portraits. It defies convention and revels in searing, gorgeous language. In fact, this is worth reading twice. Agent: Alice Tasman, Jean V. Naggar Literary. (Feb.)