PJ Harvey's Rid of Me: A Story
Rid of Me is the latest addition to Continuum International’s 33 1/3 series, which takes seminal albums of the last 40 years and allows writers of various bents to write about, around, through and over the music that informs the books. Rid of Me takes its cue from PJ Harvey’s album of the same title and appropriately veers away from its surface toward an unusual and fictive adventure into the irreverently dark psychology(ies) that made the album popular in the first place.
There is a tendency in reviewing an interdisciplinary project like this, to weigh the “derivative” text (Schatz’s Rid of Me) against the original work (Harvey’s Rid of Me), but it’s been awhile since I was really into the album (even back then it wasn’t one of my mainstays). Not to mention that to evaluate the book in this way would too readily presuppose that it is necessary to have some insider knowledge of the album in order to appreciate Schatz’s book (which is, frankly, not true), and it also tends to overvalue the original album instead of considering the generative potential of the intermingling of creative forms.
Certainly, for the knowing reader, the lyrics are weaved into Schatz’s text, but what is more interesting is the way that the story disembarks from the album through a detour into the troubled backstories of two “characters” (Mary and Kathleen) mentioned on the album. In Schatz’s story, having struggled in a patriarchal world that disavows their subjectivity, both Mary and Kathleen are escapees bound together in their troubled pasts as much as in their desire to leave the world that traumatized them behind. As their histories and scarred psychologies are revealed to us through dream, hallucination, flashback and narration, I became increasingly unsure of the boundaries between reality and hallucination, between utopia and dystopia. I suspect this suspension of disbelief, evoked by the text, is meant to mimic in the reader the tenuous link between self and world that both Mary and Kathleen experienced in their lives, and continue to struggle with even in their escape. The implication is that one cannot really leave trauma behind, but can only watch it burn and “go on,” and, in this sense, the story is as much about female love and reconciliation as it is about the violence and struggle of being a woman in a patriarchal world.