Review: Cut

By Prasha Maharjan
Fiction Review: Cut

Cut is a fiction woven around a 15 year old girl who has resorted to cutting or slashing her arms to vent out guilt. Author Patricia McCormick uses the character Callie to tell a story of a self-mutilator. Callie is the narrator and the story unfolds in the way she experiences her time in Sea Pines, a mental illness center. McCormick paints for her readers a vivid picture of Sea Pines through the eyes of Callie. Particularly, there is no sense of privacy whatsoever.

Callie is portrayed as one of the quiet patients there who gradually opens up to her friends. As she narrates of her daily monotonous times, the most interesting parts are the times she visits with her counselor. While the rest of the characters in the novel have names, the counselor is simply addressed as ‘You.’ It is in these times with the counselor that we get insights into why and how Callie happens to be in Sea Pines, the loony bin.

In Callie’s reflection of her family, she talks about an incident when she was thirteen and probably left to herself with her asthmatic brother Sam and it was one of the those days he had an asthma attack. He was rushed to the hospital and she was left to her own devices to think it was her fault. To start cutting was probably a way to punish herself for her brother’s sickness, her parents’ worries and it could also be that she wanted their attention.

The fact that her parents are too concerned about her sick brother is subtly eating away at Callie. It is always about him, his baseball cards, and running him to hospitals and so on. Her dad mostly is not home and the mother who is home is mostly attentive to Sam. However, just to get her parents’ attention is not the only precursor that is leading her to cutting. Callie has been blaming herself for her brother’s sickness. That night her brother had an attack, she was the only one with him and thus she presumed that she had not taken good care of him. Certainly not getting attention from her parents also builds up lack of communication. Her parents could not communicate to her that she was not to be blamed for problems in the family.

Affirmation and encouragement are definitely aspects Callie was looking for and that showed up in the interactions with her friend Amanda and the counselor. The institution at its best was set up in a way that patients have no access to sharp or self-mutilating tools, yet Callie happened to break off a metal piece from a chair and dared to keep it. Amanda who came to know of this sarcastically complimented her as being ‘gutsy.’ Also in a group meeting when Callie had been mostly quiet spoke to protect her friend. All she said was, “It’s my fault.” This is not surprising given her history. She had always felt that all the problems were her fault. Following that incident, Amanda who usually addressed her as ‘S.T.’ (silent treatment) said she no more fit that criterion henceforth.

Callie has always seen herself as the problem. The counselor gets to the core of the problem when she suggests that Callie should try to imagine it as if she were on the outside looking in: that she was just a 13 year old girl playing with her brother whose sickness is out of her control and that a 13 year old girl provided CPR for him, which is pretty impressive.

This counseling session had already set the stage for Callie to believe that she was not to be blamed. This comes to full blossom when she and her dad have a little conversation. Her dad confesses that he has been away from the family a lot and had not been a good father. This lifted a huge burden off Callie’s shoulder. Now she is reassured that neither her brother’s sickness nor her father’s absence or overwork is due to her.

In conclusion, the diagnosis would be that Callie needed to be freed from her guilt and basically needed to be communicated to. Her parents not communicating with her built a lot of false assumptions in her. Communication and words of affirmation helped her to reconcile with her family.

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