Uh-oh. It’s the second book from Elizabeth Wurtzel, the tad-too-calculated human train wreck, self-proclaimed depressive, and off-and-on druggie, the Courtney Love of letters. So it’s natural to expect Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women to be as shrewdly zeitgeist ready as her first effort, 1994’s self-serving but cannily marketed Prozac Nation. Bitch, which purports to dissect high-maintenance types like the biblical Delilah, Amy Fisher, Hillary Clinton, Nicole Brown Simpson, Sylvia Plath, and Margaux Hemingway, reads like a long, messy E-mail from an insomniac on a manic high. The prose, seemingly untouched by editors, is windy, incessantly self-referential, and packed with show-offy references to everyone from Aeschylus to the Queen of Sheba. It’s only nominally about difficult women; it is, rather, The World According to Elizabeth Wurtzel.
It’s also an extraordinarily thought-provoking, absorbing, wise, often poignant read. You can disagree with Wurtzel, but at least she always has a passionate point of view. She defends the marriage of Hillary and Bill Clinton as a triumph of perseverance; she champions Amy Fisher; she points out, as many feminists were loath to, that the relationship between Nicole and O.J. Simpson was more complex than merely victim and villain; she expertly analyzes the odd, doomed attraction between powerless women like Gennifer Flowers and the powerful men they often nearly bring down, like Clinton. Unlike Prozac Nation, which seemed transparently the work of a too-smart Harvard kid who suckered The New Yorker into hiring her at age 24 and figured book publishing was another easy mark, Bitch feels authentic, the ravings of someone who in another era would be either a reclusive scholar or remanded to an insane asylum.
The now-30-year-old Wurtzel’s fixation with the topic of difficult women seems to stem from the realization that she is no longer an Ivy League wunderkind. She considers herself a ”depressed maniac,” with too many failed love affairs behind her, and she’s furious about being on a biological deadline. ”I don’t want to spend any time making lists of things to do by age 35 or no one will marry me,” she writes. ”I don’t want to be on this f—ing clock that no man on earth is…. I want more than that. That’s the word that keeps echoing in my head as I think of ways to make a mess: MORE.” Women who are labeled ”difficult,” Wurtzel believes, are simply those who refuse to repress their desires and, like Oliver Twist, ask for more. ”The scariest thing about [Courtney Love],” she says, ”is that she wants.”
The scariest thing about Wurtzel — and this book — is how much she identifies with suicidal women like the poets Anne Sexton and Plath. ”Look, a girl can get in trouble anywhere,” she writes in one chilling passage. ”But a car, even on Dead Man’s Curve…will take you a lot further than a man. And when the time is right, if it comes to that, you can drive that car into a garage, turn on the engine, feel the air fill with carbon monoxide, feel the onset of asphyxia, feel your breathing slow, feel your body stop feeling, feel the only real freedom you will ever know.”
Is that Wurtzel, the drama queen from Prozac Nation who knows a third book contract is just around the corner — or someone truly troubled? Stay tuned. As she warns, ”The world is big and strange and can’t be trifled with.” The same can be said of Elizabeth Wurtzel. A-