I was born with a mind that is compromised by preternatural unhappiness, and I might have died very young or done very little. Instead, I made a career out of my emotions. And now I am just quarreling with normal.
Elizabeth Wurtzel has written a New York magazine article that looks back harshly at her social life and her writing career of nearly 20 years. The article has created a big buzz, both favorable and highly critical. “I start reading every Elizabeth Wurtzel essay with optimism, like maybe finally she put her talent to writing about something than herself, and by the end of paragraph three that optimism has fled” says Jessa Crispin at Bookslut. “A deliciously hathotic middle-aged whine” says Rod Dreher at the American Conservative. “I like this lady’s style” says David Lat at Above The Law.
Well, whatever you think of Elizabeth Wurtzel’s moral value system, one thing’s for sure: she’s a dynamite writer. She stirs up strong emotions with sneaky, crafty paragraphs that know exactly what they’re doing. No wonder she’s a lawyer. Here’s how she describes this career:
Most people who think they are practicing law are actually making binders, and my guess is that most people who think they are doing whatever important thing they are doing are making binders. The binders from law firms go to a locker in a warehouse in a parking lot in an office park off an exit of a turnpike off a highway off an interstate in New Jersey, never to be looked at again. No one ever read them in the first place.
The painful self-criticism in this piece — her mixed feelings about never marrying or having children, her ambivalence about her successes and failures as a writer — make it awkward and embarrassing to read, which is probably why so many have mocked the author for writing it. However, I respect writers who are brave enough to appear foolish by writing bleak confessionals.of epic scale. The writers I like best are the ones who have the courage to deliver themselves to us in full — not as heroes but as failed mortals, and to reveal every painful truth. Isn’t this what we love Dostoevsky and Nietzsche for, after all?
I had a long talk with Elizabeth Wurtzel once, back in the Prozac Nation days of the mid-1990s, when she was an A-lister and I was just a newbie bookish webmaster, excited one night to have an opportunity to sit at a table at a downtown club and mingle with some literati. Elizabeth Wurtzel was holding court at one table, and doing so in a very entertaining and generous way, When she heard my name she immediately asked if I had taken it from Chaim Potok’s novel My Name is Asher Lev (indeed, in a way, I had) and then called for attention so she could describe the plot of this novel to everybody at the table in effusive detail, which she proceeded to do.
Reading her latest New York Times essay, she depicts herself as having been pretty strung out during the Prozac Nation craze. All I remember is a very smart and energetic woman who wanted to talk about an old favorite novel. Why criticize Elizabeth Wurtzel for this New York Magazine piece? She’s only doing what a true writer does — telling us the truth.