January 8, 2020

"Even before 'Prozac Nation' I knew about her because she was a focus of resentment in these kinds of pages, the too-pretty girl who got a job as a music critic..."

"... at New York magazine right out of college before jumping to the New Yorker. It was fashionable to dislike her, to doubt her talent or question the reasons for her success. I’m sure she was difficult; early fame makes people difficult.... If you looked past the hundreds who hated her, there were thousands, maybe millions, who loved her. They were in her Instagram captions, explaining how her books had changed their lives. Even before she died Tuesday, you would stumble across her bright-polished aphorisms about depression and mental health and recovery, shared over and over again on Facebook and Twitter. 'That is all I want in life: for this pain to seem purposeful.' 'I need love. I need the thing that happens when your brain shuts off and your heart turns on.' 'Depression is so insidious and it compounds daily, that it’s impossible to ever see the end. The fog is like a cage without a key.'"

From "Elizabeth Wurtzel was right all along" by Amy Argetsinger (WaPo). To explain the headline: What she was "right" about was the value of the personal memoir.

I love the category personal memoir and have for decades. But I skipped "Prozac Nation" because something about it was off-putting to me. Partly it was the cover:



It gets your attention like mad, but then — for me, anyway — it was more: Give me a break or Who the hell are they saying she's supposed to be?

And then it was the Prozac. Everyone was talking about Prozac. There was "Listening to Prozac" and related articles. I kept reading that Prozac would change all of human life, that we could finally become the human beings we were meant to be. And now Prozac was to be the name of a nation (kind of like "Woodstock nation")? That felt like bullshit to me. Back in the 90s. And it still does today.

But that's about a title and a cover for a book I didn't read. Now, Elizabeth Wurtzel has died, and the feeling of reading the book would be quite different.

And yet, I must say, "Young and Depressed in America" is still very unappealing to me. With what will you furnish the inside of your head?

48 comments:

Amadeus 48 said...

Neurotic blather from a privileged white woman? Sounds racist to me.

David Begley said...

Worthwhile to note that she wasn’t a suicide. Cancer. No Sylvia Plath.

And, no, she wasn’t rich; not even after the book.

traditionalguy said...

The running of the stag. NYC's liberal culture bagged her.

BarrySanders20 said...

I liked the Thunderbolt Kid, Bill Bryson's memoir. Clearly embellished to make iot more interesting and humorous, but still worth the while.

So it was fashionable to bash Wurtzel by people jealous of her quick success. It was also fashionable to bash Prozac. No drug works for all people as we metabolize chemicals differently. And doctors sometimes overuse drugs that seem to help many of their patients. But Prozac has helped millions of people cope with depression or anxiety making their lives and the lives of the people around them much better.

gspencer said...

Everyone remembers the heartache of Kitty (feel-sorry-for-me) Dukakis, right?

Right?

She was so depressed she gave it to the rest of us.

Ann Althouse said...

"Worthwhile to note that she wasn’t a suicide. Cancer. No Sylvia Plath."

There is a post on this blog yesterday linking to the obituaries and discussing the cancer. That's why I didn't say that here, but I am aware that not discussing it creates the impression of suicide.

Ann Althouse said...

It's all in the quality of the writing. I don't know if hers would have appealed to me.

I loved "Liar's Club" from that era.

tim maguire said...

Most memoirs are not good and few are totally solid. There's always a bit of lying, a bit of bait and switch that leaves me feeling manipulated and had my time wasted.

Among those I've read, my favorites are "All Over But the Shouting" and "Self-Abuse" because they're funny.

Fernandistein said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lucid-Ideas said...

"Young and Depressed in America" is still very unappealing to me."

Again. Still. Will always be. The difference between 99% of these and Wurtzel is that Wurtzel had a good publicist. The depression 'industry' as I like to call it (oh yes...it is an industry) makes extremely good money feeding on the insecurities of young people, but especially young women. Wurtzel was ready-made ammunition for that industry.

Fernandistein said...

I want to take 100mg of Prozac and watch Cats.

Heartless Aztec said...

She was attractive in that big city way... Glad I didn't have to put up with her.

Lucid-Ideas said...

Heroin chic
Depression Olympics
Goths
Actual heroin use
The 'I might be gay' hobby kit

And suicide is now the 2nd leading cause of death among those under 25. I'm getting really really sick of 'prozac' nation.

Lucid-Ideas said...

I forgot one more. Hormone drugs and hormone blockers. For when your psychiatrist doesn't think anything else will work and decides to consult your family and you that you're really a girl, and the solution to your problems is to cut your dick off or grow a beard.

Prozac nation.

CJinPA said...

This is "Depression Chic" literature. It was also a music genre. It's cousin in advertising was "Heroin Chic." It's one of the more sinister things pop culture has done to young people, and that's saying something.

CJinPA said...

Lucid-Ideas said...
Heroin chic

--

Exactly. I should have read the comments before adding my own.

Lucid-Ideas said...

...but she gets an obit in the NYT.

Now ask yourself why? Qui bono? Why does she, her work, and her tropes deserve mention by 'the paper of record'?

'Depression Industry'. Some Merck or Pfizer or Glaxo executive is still screaming across a boardroom table, "GODDAMN IT YOU PEOPLE! These frickin' drugs aren't going to sell themselves!"

Fernandistein said...

It gets your attention like mad, but then — for me, anyway — it was more: Give me a break or Who the hell are they saying she's supposed to be?

Judging a book by its cover is quick and efficient.

Ann Althouse said...

"I liked the Thunderbolt Kid, Bill Bryson's memoir."

Yeah, I love that book and have blogged about it many times. I almost know it by heart because I love Bryson's voice and have played it hundreds of times as an audiobook (to go to sleep!).

Ann Althouse said...

Bryson was born the same year as a I was -- 1951 -- so even though his is extremely focused on being a BOY, I really get so many of the references.

William said...

Hypochondriacs eventually get sick and die. Depressives eventually run into some depressing events. Maybe she felt a measure of relief in knowing that she, at long last, had something to be depressed about. The upside of terminal cancer.... It would drive me crazy to be good looking, successful, have lots of sex with different, attractive partners and wake up in the morning feeling that my life was futile and sad....I'm occasionally depressed. I feel it's the sane response to the objective facts of my life. I try to limit my bouts of unexplained cheerfulness but sometimes they just happen.

tim in vermont said...

When it was suggested that she was the model for PGOAT, I had to look. She’s girl next door pretty. Yeah, she will garner attention when she enters a room. In some photos she is downright beautiful. I guess that’s the important thing for a writer, that at at least one angle, and with just the right makeup and lighting, you can appear beautiful in a photo at yet it is still you.

I think I made the point in the other thread that most writers write about their neuroses, of which either they are the master [Mel Brooks] or the slave [Adam Sandler], she maybe was just more open about it and Prozac has replace “analysis."

Ann Althouse said...

"Judging a book by its cover is quick and efficient."

We used to go to Borders all the time back then, and checking out what was on the tables in front was a big part of what you did. You couldn't pick up every book, so the cover determined what you picked up. It was fun to react to things. What the hell is this? I really remember reacting to "Prozac Nation" as a book cover. I probably picked it up and opened it to the middle and read sentences until I formed an opinion about whether this is the kind of writing I want to look at. It wasn't one of those rare things where the first sentence was good and the next was too and then every further sentence was good. I'd buy a book if there were 5 consecutive sentences that were all good. It didn't happen often. Not at all!!

Big Mike said...

There is a post on this blog yesterday linking to the obituaries and discussing the cancer.

Yes, I meant to comment yesterday that women should insist on testing for the BRCA mutation. I learned this from a friend, an Ob-Gyn who discovered that she had the gene mutation and scheduled a double mastectomy immediately. Having the BRCA mutation gives a woman close to a 90% probability that she will get breast cancer. Her daughter inherited the gene mutation, and did likewise.

Howard said...

I'm with you, Althouse. I really like the message from "A Beautiful Mind" where John Nash learned to cope by ignoring the voices in his head.

William said...

I've never read anything by Anais Nin, but I surmise that her good looks add some frisson to her writings. I don't think good looks ever hurt the sales of female writers who wants to talk about their romantic struggles. Collette and Edna St. Vincent Millay were also good looking. It helped sales.....Hemingway was the grandfather of two super models. I bet his good looks had something to do with his early success as well.

mccullough said...

She got a lot of vitriol from other female writers.

I might read Prozac Nation now. Might be interesting 25 years on.

To be a popular enough writer you can’t be too literary. As Raymond Chandler said, he could have made his books more literary but then no one would have bought them.

Fernandistein said...

You couldn't pick up every book, so the cover determined what you picked up.

Try teh google on [book covers influence sales]

I was also thinking of this headline:
People who second-guess themselves make worse decisions, study finds

So don't look inside the book, you'll just get confused...(It was actually about betting on soccer games, and perhaps the opposite of the Monty Hall Problem).

wild chicken said...

I recently read World of Henry Orient and then a memoir by its author Nora Johnson called Coast to Coast. She was probably depressed too but was of an age that didn't dwell on it and got on with life.

But I related because her very interesting parents were divorced (like mine) and she spent her youth shuttling between Hollywood and Manhattan. (Not like me.)

At this point it's like seeing what all I missed. Others: Barbarian Days (surfing), Mozart in the Jungle (classical musicians), My Several Worlds (Pearl Buck and my family's missionary generation).

sunsong said...

a funny song:

is it peace or is it prozac?

Wince said...

Althouse said...
But I skipped "Prozac Nation" because something about it was off-putting to me. Partly it was the cover.

Wurtzel is said to have died of "complications from breast cancer".

Isn't her pose on the cover of Prozac Nation how you undergo a breast exam?

reader said...

We had a labrador on Prozac for three years. He was afraid of everything: other dogs, the car, bikers, strollers, the outdoors;). Prozac allowed us to work with him and get him to the point he could function. The first year there was a lot of coordination between our dog trainer and our vet.

Bay Area Guy said...

I didn't read "Prozac Nation" because I thought it was bullshit. I did follow EW, though, because she was exactly my age, and she had talent.

As I noted in the other thread, she wrote this article, a short memoir, , which caught my eye at the time, because I thought it was so bleak and pointless for someone who had reached literary fame so early.

Not to politicize everything, but it does seem to me she bought the modern approach to feminism and atheism, and rode it, sadly, to a short end.

Young women -- don't follow her lead!

Francisco D said...

I'm with you, Althouse. I really like the message from "A Beautiful Mind" where John Nash learned to cope by ignoring the voices in his head.

Sylvia Nassar's biography was somewhat different than the terrific Ron Howard/Akiva Goldman movie.

While it is true that he ignored the voice in his head, his ability to manage schizophrenia, his ability to cope had a lot to do with extremely supportive people in his life. In a social sense, Nash was a total asshole (due to his mental illness), but his ex-wife and former colleagues persisted in supporting him probably because go their humanity and his Beautiful Mind

tim in vermont said...

That article was pretty good, Bay Area Guy. I can see why she has been successful.

Sebastian said...

"all that was happening to me was everything that was happening to me. . . . In other words, I was deep in the human condition"

Deep! Very deep!

Sebastian said...

"I have no husband, no children, no real estate, no stocks, no bonds, no investments, no 401(k), no CDs, no IRAs, no emergency fund—I don’t even have a savings account. It’s not that I have not planned for the future; I have not planned for the present . . . I have no assets and no family . . . I made a career out of my emotions."

Some people are right to be depressed.

SGT Ted said...

"I kept reading that Prozac would change all of human life, that we could finally become the human beings we were meant to be."

What kind of weirdo would even think that about a psych drug?

madAsHell said...

A gramme is better than a damn

--Aldous Huxley

Earnest Prole said...

White women in America are the freest, most prosperous women in all of human history, which also explains why they're so sad.

madAsHell said...

People who second-guess themselves make worse decisions, study finds

People who make bad decisions tend to second-guess themselves.

Chicken meet egg!!

The study was written by a pair-of-docs.

I'll be here all week. Be sure to tip your waitress.

Bay Area Guy said...

@Sebastian,

"I have no husband, no children, no real estate, no stocks, no bonds, no investments, no 401(k), no CDs, no IRAs, no emergency fund—I don’t even have a savings account. It’s not that I have not planned for the future; I have not planned for the present . . . I have no assets and no family . . . I made a career out of my emotions."

EW wrote that at age 46, which, at the time shocked me. She had written about similar bleakness at age 27 in Prozac Nation, but apparently did nothing to change her trajectory.

At age 27, I, too, had similar concerns about all those things. You're done with school, mostly broke, trying to scrape by, and start a career. But I didn't give up on the future, I just bore down to eventually get those things (wife, kids, real estate, stocks, blah, blah, blah).

She really was a talented writer who saw the symptoms, but missed both the cause and the cure.

Amexpat said...

I never read any of her works but I'd admired her marketing savvy, and the cover of "Bitch".

I did read a homage she wrote a few years back to Bob Dylan. It starts off well:
...Bob Dylan put poetry out of business. He invented the singer-songwriter. He created the more efficient delivery system.

When I started writing, I knew I had to compete with what Bob Dylan did with language, because he preempted emotion on the page. I had to tell the truth. I had to be utter. I had to go to extremes. I am up against the sonic museum of Bob Dylan.


But after that it's mostly formulaic cliches.

Maddad said...

She and I are about the same age, and I was trying to be super-cool and GenX and arty and musical and grunge and punk and New York too. But I couldn't make any money at it, I wasn't pretty, and I really wanted to make sure my girlfriend didn't leave me, so I wanted to get a job and get married. So I did, and we moved the hell out of the Northeast and almost immediately got pregnant with our first kid. I remember being told that I "had" to read "Prozac Nation" when it came out, but I didn't have time, and when I finally had a little bit of time, I didn't want to read it anyway. I do remember my NYC "friends" slagging her something fierce in the very late '90's and early 00's, but by that point I was a Docker's wearing, lawn mowing, minivan driving, dadbod, whose only article of black clothing were the socks for his interview suit. So I don't really have an opinion, except that it's sad that she had to die young in a horrible way.

Nichevo said...

I read her saying that she got chapped lips from all the blowjobs she gave; then I put down the book, article, or wherever I read that, and I never thought of her again.

Crazy Jane said...

I'm sorry she died, but I'm not sorry I didn't read her books. I did read a couple articles, which struck me as thoughtful and well-written, which is unusual now. Had she lived longer, she might have had more to say.

What bugged me about her is something that is not exactly her fault -- that she inspired many more frustrated young women to write memoirs that amounted to screams/scribbles for attention. Memoir used to be the province of people who perhaps had had had memorable experiences but, more important, could share what they had learned from those experiences.

The literature of well-educated upper-class women bleeding on the floor leaves me cold.

Hercules, not that one though said...

Maddad..best thing I read all day. Good on ya

Josephbleau said...

I never thought of her as exceptionally pretty, perhaps not my type.