Monday, March 4, 2013

Pain, Parties, Work by Elizabeth Winder

Sylvia Plath.  I am sure you have heard the name and probably can't place it. Plath was a poet and writer of short stories. She also wrote one novel, The Bell Jar, before she killed herself in 1963, at age thirty.
Author Elizabeth Winder takes Plath's life in the summer of 1953 and exposes the real names and places of Plath's first downhill spiral with mental illness. At times while I read, I felt deja-vu..I felt like I was reading The Bell Jar where only the names were changed to protect the not so innocent.
Plath was a very gifted writer from early on, having her first poem published at age 8. Her father died the same year, and her mother decided due to her tender age,  she would not attend the funeral. Years later she would remark that she did not mourn his death until she was in her twenties, breaking down into unconsolable tears at last.
Through high school and college she had more small works published and she ended up winning a spot with Mademoiselle, in the summer of 1953 along with 19 other young women, as a junior editor. They would all stay at the Barbizon Hotel,  be involved in fashion shoots, photo sessions, dinners, dances..they would meet famous fashion experts, writers, poets, actors and actresses. A few of the girls, including Sylvia, would be put to work actually editing writers for the magazine. It was not all fluff for those few. They were expected to work and work hard.
This was quite a different world away from where most of these girls had been brought up. Sylvia hailed from Wellesley, MA...some of the girls were from the corn fields of the mid-west and plantations in the south. Needless to say,  most were naive about living in NYC.
After this world wind summer in NYC, Sylvia returned home and made her first suicide attempt, spending three days under the cellar of her home after taking a bottle of anti-depressants. She was 21 years old.
Such a tragic life. The Bell Jar, written by Plath, focuses on her life after the suicide attempt and her stay at the asylums, her therapies and treatments, her coming back into the"normal" world.
So much has been written about Plath since her death, it was good to read a novel about that one summer.... tragic though, because you can see the unraveling of a young woman's life. Something she obviously never fully recovered from.
This is a very good book, I recommend you read it. I also recommend you read some of Plath's works before or after this book. Definitely re-read The Bell Jar.

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