There’s a fascinating dialogue starting to unfold about Elizabeth Wurtzel’s essay on herself (as a single woman, writer, and sometimes-lawyer facing down her mid-40s) appearing in the upcoming Jan. 14 of the New Yorker. The title’s a wee bit unfortunate — “Elizabeth Wurtzel Confronts Her One-Night Stand of a Life.” But that’s not nearly as harsh as the rejoinder in today’s Salon, “Elizabeth Wurtzel Writes About Herself Again. Memoir Finally Hits Bottom.”
The debate in Salon centers on Gawker’s pugilistically-titled “Journalism Is Not Narcissism,” which decries the ever-expanding world of the first-person memoir that the Internet (and the continuing wind-whipping effects of the Internet age on our collective sense of the public/private divide).
But the New Yorker readers, in commenting on the article, bring in some decidedly prescient commentary. Wurtzel is so apparently unaware of her own obnoxiousness that, despite an opening scene that could be a more sympathy-generating account of an episode with a female stalker in a more deft writer’s hands, she dooms her essay to a blanket dismissal of the “First World Problems” variety, even before she even recounts highlights of a good relationship by including the detail, “We would laugh about whether Buddhism could rightly be called a religion or a phase people go through.”
Reader comments range from the simple, one-line character assassination, like “A great writer without anything great to write about” and “I say this with pure sincerity: It must really suck to be her,” to more detailed discourses like this:
Except for the schoolkid grammar, the muppie self-help jingo lingo and the bellybutton p.o.v., this Oprah-fried travelogue of some middlewit sybarite’s maundering is really funny as hell. Nothing like the gurgles of someone drowning in their own bathos to perk things up. Thanks, NYMag. 315,000,000 Americans — this is the one you think we want to hear 5,500 words from, eh? Brilliant.
Though her prose feels very purposeful and deliberate, it seems specifically engineered to cause the reader to simultaneously feel pity and envy — not too far really the adolescent’s lament that no one will ever love like me or feel pain like me. It also opens up a new well of questions — for instance, is it more repugnant and pathetic to brag about a heroin addiction of 20 years ago, or to brag that the heroin addiction in question, as she frames it, “showed my good sense, because the rest of the time I was completely out of control?”
Could a James Frey revival be far behind?