Out on 24 June 2021


Bette Howland

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24 June 2021
288 pages

‘Moving and heroically funny’ New York Times
‘A brave and honorable book. Bette Howland is a real writer.’ Saul Bellow, author of Seize the Day

‘For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin—real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way. Something to be got through first, some unfinished business; time still to be served, a debt to be paid. Then life could begin. At last it had dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.’

W-3 is a small psychiatric ward in a large university hospital, a world of pills and passes dispensed by an all-powerful staff, a world of veteran patients with grab-bags of tricks, a world of disheveled, moment-to-moment existence on the edge of permanence.

Bette Howland was one of those patients. In 1968, Howland was thirty-one, a single mother of two young sons, struggling to support her family on the part-time salary of a librarian; and labouring day and night at her typewriter to be a writer. One afternoon, while staying at her friend Saul Bellow’s apartment, she swallowed a bottle of pills. W-3 is both an extraordinary portrait of the community of Ward 3 and a record of a defining moment in a writer’s life. The book itself would be her salvation: she wrote herself out of the grave.

This beautiful new edition features an original introduction by Yiyun Li, Pulitzer prize-winning author of Where Reasons End.

I was much moved by W-3. It is admirably straight and thoughtful, tough-minded but full of powerful feeling. The patients of W-3, black and white, men and women, dizzy, endearing, suicidal, doomed, come to us from these pages not as case studies but as our own brothers and sisters. No poses are struck and no vain gestures made in this brave and honorable book. Bette Howland is a real writer.

Saul Bellow, Nobel Prize winning author of Seize the Day

In an earlier book, W-3, the moving and heroically funny account of Miss Howland's stay in the psychiatric ward of a university hospital after she had swallowed a fistful of sleeping pills, her tough and resilient personality brought a remarkably clearheaded way of seeing and knowing to that chaotic refuge of the dispossessed.

The New York Times

Bette Howland is at her best when her keenly observing eye is turned outward. Watching, always watching, she misses nothing, grasps everything, and puts it all together with an originality and cogency that are rare and memorable.

Johanna Kaplan, Commentary