Reviewed by Clare Brook
I Fear My Pain Interests You by Stephanie LaCava resonates like poetry, her writing is spare, economical and yet so meticulous in imageries of place and sentiment. LaCava describes psychological suffering and estrangement in her protagonist who cannot feel physical pain. A real condition, apparently, known as congenital analgesia. Given that the same circuitry in the brain handles both mental and physical pain, this is an interesting premise.
The novel is written in the first person by the protagonist, Margot. Her parents are famous musicians obsessed with their careers and having very little time for their daughter. There are many references to art and film so to bring readers into Margot’s environment as Margot has been emotionally neglected all of her life, spending her early years with her controlling grandmother, a retired dancer. Now in her early twenties, she is an aspiring actor under the guidance of her grandmother, who endeavours to monitor and manipulate her every move. No-one in the family has noticed Margot’s odd condition. (So, yes, a poor little rich girl story.) Of course, she is vulnerable to inappropriate relationships becoming infatuated with controlling abusive men. In the opening chapters, Margot is obsessed with The Director, a man in his fifties, their affair is very much on and off, until eventually it is off, Margot is a living wreck; she moves from New York to Montana to live in a house owned by Lucy’s parents to recover. Lucy is a stable rock in Margot’s life, also from a rich show biz family. On the road to a shaky recovery, she meets Graves, a neurologist; from there a relationship of sorts ensues. Incredibly attractive Graves has a pathological calm but is another abuser. Nevertheless, he does educate her about her condition. LaCava suggests to readers that Graves understands Margot’s vulnerability when he tells her that physical and emotional pain reside in the same space in the brain. Readers and Margot come to realise that Graves has some problems of his own. The novel ends somewhat abruptly, leaving the reader to wonder if congenital analgesia is more a psychological condition rather than a glitch in brain circuitry.
I appreciate that the familiar trope of an emotionally damaged young girl of rich and famous parents is somewhat clichéd. The novel does not have a strong plotline, the machinations of the protagonist’s mind replacing direct action. In depth character study instead of strong plot and direct action is just fine for this reader because LaCava constructs this novel so well. It transitions carefully from scene-to-scene, chapter to chapter, allowing the reader to really sense her protagonist’s lived experience. An interesting novel.
I Fear My Pain Interests You is Stephanie LaCava’s second novel, her debut novel, The Superrationals, was published in 2020. She is also the author of a memoir: An Extraordinary Theory of Objects: A Memoir of an Outsider in Paris.
By Stephanie LaCava
ISBN: 978 183976 602 2