Lights On, Rats Outby Cree LeFavour
A raw, intense and intimate account of one gifted young woman’s dangerously entangled relationship with a psychiatrist in her defiant twenties.
As a young college graduate a year into treatment with a psychiatrist, Cree LeFavour began to organize her days around the cruel, compulsive logic of self-harm: With each newly lit cigarette, the world would drop away as her focus narrowed on the fierce, blooming release of pleasure-pain as the burning tip was applied to an unblemished patch of skin. Her body was a canvas of cruelty; each scar a mark of pride and shame.
In sharp and shocking language, Lights On, Rats Out brings us closely into these years. We see the world as Cree did–turned upside down, the richness of life muted and dulled, its pleasures perverted. The heady thrill of meeting with her psychiatrist, Dr. Adam N. Kohl—whose relationship with Cree is at once sustaining and paralyzing—comes to be the only bright spot in her days.
Moving deftly between the dialogue and observations from psychiatric records and elegant, incisive reflection on youth and early adulthood, Lights On, Rats Out illuminates a fiercely bright and independent woman’s charged attachment to a mental health professional and the dangerous compulsion to keep him in her life at all costs.
“[LeFavour] exhibits a rare willingness to take the reader into difficult and sometimes unpleasant territory . . . a riveting account of a ‘particular kind of crazy’—namely, the damaged and self-damaging young woman she once was. . . This is a courageous and unsettling memoir, infused with humor as well as pain, and marked throughout by a survivor’s wry insight.” —Daphne Merkin, New York Times Book Review
“In startling, beautiful language reminiscent of Plath, LeFavour details her horrific, masochistic impulses. In one chapter when LeFavour’s sanity wavers, ‘splendid women’ like Plath, Sexton, and Porcia Catonis appear in the psychiatric ward, acting both as ominous harbingers and beacons of hope. A searing, brilliant memoir revealing the therapeutic process and its ability “to turn our ghosts into ancestors.” —Booklist (starred review)
“A searingly eloquent and intelligent memoir.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Riveting . . . The memoir, based in part on medical records relinquished at the final session with [her psychiatrist] Dr. Kohl, chronicles LeFavour’s deepening relationship with him; he served as her confidante and a ‘quasi’ father figure, and she eventually fell in love with him. They both maintained professional boundaries and she honored her agreement to commit herself to a psychiatric hospital when she couldn’t stop the burning. When the ‘lights’ finally came on for this profoundly troubled young woman, she writes, she was able to release her shame and pain, and embrace a future of possibilities.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“A harrowing, beautiful, searching, and deeply literary memoir. In these pages, we watch Cree LeFavour evolve from a wounded (and wounding) lost girl to a woman who can at last regard her existence with a modicum of mercy and forgiveness. To see somebody trade in her life of suffering and isolation for a life of shaky (but authentic) self-compassion is a gift. LeFavour takes no easy shortcuts on her path to healing–only because there are no easy shortcuts. Nor does she ever relinquish a molecule of her blindingly sharp intelligence as she guides us expertly through the mazes of her broken, youthful mind. It is sometimes difficult to read of the pain she inflicted upon herself when she was young–but life is sometimes difficult to live, and we must all be honest about that. LeFavour is nothing if not honest as she tries to explain (and to comprehend for her own purposes) why a beautiful, gifted young woman would have gone so far out of her way to injure herself. In so doing, she ultimately offers us a story of true self-salvation and transformation, told in such a way as I’ve never quite seen it told before. I admire this book immensely–and its author even more.” —Elizabeth Gilbert
“Lights On, Rats Out is unlike anything I’ve ever read—a powerfully, staggeringly honest book that is excruciating in places, and also completely haunting. LeFavour’s intimate account of her relationship with her psychiatrist is intensely compelling, forthright, and brave. Did he overstep? Was he somehow pulled in by her beyond what was therapeutically appropriate or helpful? This is a fascinating memoir in a category of its own.” —Dani Shapiro
“With chilled, unflinching precision, in Lights On, Rats Out, LeFavour lays bare her struggles with self-mutilation, chronicling a terrifying clash between mind and flesh. A vivid, unsettling, and powerful read.” —Jonathan Miles
“In Lights On, Rats Out, Cree LeFavour writes of her struggles to feel she deserves a place in this world. This is one of the best books I have ever read about the drive for equilibrium and how transformative peace can be both for ourselves and our children.” —Darcey Steinke
“Cree LeFavour’s memoir of self-mutilation and temporary insanity isn’t for the faint of heart. Rather, it’s for anyone who’s ever been too scared to feel or too hurt to register pain—in other words, all of us. I don’t think I’ve ever read a more hopeful, searingly intelligent book about the distances we’re capable of traveling as we find our way back to the light.” —Adam Ross