The best DVD commentaries come when the participants have had an opportunity to perspective thank to the passage of time. It allows for a more honest assessment of what worked, what didn’t work and what could or should have done differently.
Listening to Suzy Favor Hamilton’s Fast Girl, I kept feeling like I wish she’d allowed a little more time to pass before penning (or in this case ghost-writing) her autobiography. Hamilton spends large chunks of the book focusing on the highs she got from first competitive running and later as a high-end escort in Las Vegas and very little (if any time) focusing on the lessons she learned from these experiences or the consequences and/or impact on her life and the lives of her family and friends. While the salacious details of her year as one of the top escorts in Vegas may sell a few books, I walked away from this book feeling like Hamilton left a lot of unexamined issues and questions on the table.
With interstitial chapters devoted to the dangers of misdiagnosing and the stigma of bipolar disorder, I kept expecting something more about Hamilton’s life after her diagnosis instead of the terse, “and then they diagnosed me as being bipolar.” Hamilton spends a lot of time in the book lamenting that her parents and family wouldn’t discuss the mental health issues that led to her brother’s suicide and her behavioral extremes, but never really digs into how the diagnosis impacted her, how she got her life back on track and the consequences her extreme behavior and eventually outing by the Smoking Gun had on her life and her family.
While I’m sure this wasn’t Hamilton’s intention, I can’t help but walk away from this book feeling that Hamilton is a self-absorbed diva who yearns for the spotlight and doesn’t really care how what she does hurts those around her. I’d love to read a book from her husband’s perspective on the mania and need for an emotional high that led to Suzy’s creation of her alter-ego Kelly and her year spent trying to become the top-rated escort in Las Vegas and the world. The story of how this man, who apparently has the patience of Job, not only held together their family and their business is one that intrigues me, as is the question of why he didn’t kick Suzy to the curb.
This memoir had some much potential to do a lot of good for the stigma associated with mental illness and its treatment. But at every turn, I couldn’t help but feel like Hamilton was undermining that potential with a “look, look at me and what I could get away with!” mentality that practically shouts across each page.
There are also huge missed opportunities early in the book as well. Relating the story of her running career –both as a college and professional athlete — Hamilton misses the boat time and again. Instead of delving into the rivalry she felt with other runners, she simply brings it up and drops it just as quickly. Instead of asking hard questions about how she got away with not doing the required coursework for her classes at the University of Wisconsin but instead skating by on loopholes given to athletes by professors, she comes across as proud that she got by without doing the work. She also brings up that she has a learning disability, but it’s often used as a crutch in her life and in recounting her story.
Fast Girl is a memoir that only scratches the surface of who Suzy Favor Hamilton is. Instead of being a meaningful conversation starter about mental health and the stigma associated with it, it comes across as a shallow, ego-centric and unapologetic attempt by Hamilton to try and have the reader forgive her behavior — and maybe to envy her a bit. She did manage to throw away multiple opportunities for success not only on the track but in life. And yet, there seems to have been little impact to her life beyond embarrassment and her father telling her she needs to change her identity and move to another country.
All in all, this was a huge disappointment. I can’t help but wonder if this memoir would been better served with a little time and perspective.