When Elizabeth Wurtzel was 27, she published the best-selling Prozac Nation, a memoir of her struggle with depression. On the cover was a picture of Wurtzel wearing a little dress, with long blonde hair, looking angst-ridden and sexy. She seemed like an ideal, highly attractive spokesperson for a generation of alienated, depressed twenty-somethings. Where would she go from Prozac Nation?
To Florida. Finding herself unable to write in New York, where she had been living, Wurtzel decided to travel south to work on her next book in peace. This time, she was writing a series of vaguely feminist essays analyzing what makes women “difficult,” and why society resents them. Producing a second book was a process fraught with danger for the fragile Wurtzel; the difficulties she encountered are enumerated in exhaustive detail in her newest confessional memoir, More, Now, Again: A Memoir of Addiction.
Before going to Florida, Wurtzel, who had been having trouble concentrating, added Ritalin to her usual cocktail of anti-depressants and mood stabilizers. At first, she was happy; she could concentrate in a new way, her writing was going well, and she was free of the stresses of being a hip, single young writer in Manhattan. However, in the isolation of her Florida apartment, it soon occurred to her to start snorting her Ritalin. In persistent denial of the drug’s addictive power, Wurtzel was soon snorting lines every five minutes, convincing herself that since Ritalin was “medicine,” she was just increasing her dose. She continued living in Florida for a year, working on her book with increasing difficulty.
Eventually, she returned to New York under pressure from family, friends, and her psychiatrist. By then she had begun supplementing her Ritalin with cocaine. She ended up finishing her book, Bitch, at her publisher’s office, snorting coke all day in front of the employees, with the janitors occasionally joining in. Bitch was finally published, featuring a topless picture of her on the cover, with her middle finger standing in for the “I” in “bitch.” She went into rehab, where she remained for four months, supposedly confronting her problems, and trying to seduce the male patients in her free time. She did cocaine the day she got out of rehab. She went on a book tour and jeopardized her career with her unreliable, irresponsible, drug-addled behavior. She fell asleep during interviews. She couldn’t think of anything to say on “Politically Incorrect.” She slept through a photo shoot for a Coach ad. Finally, she realized, again, that she needed help, and she went back to rehab.
Eventually, she accepted all the tenets of Alcoholics Anonymous and got a new lease on life. Her bizarre final crisis came when she gained 35 pounds and no longer looked sexy (something she had always counted on). In a frenzy at her weight gain, Wurtzel immediately considered going off her carefully orchestrated drug cocktail to have liposuction. Fortunately, her careful study of the life of the poet Anne Sexton, her suicidal idol, tipped her off that it might have been her anti-depressants that made her fat. She went off them, lost the weight, and achieved happiness.
And then what did she do? She returned to the genre that made her rich and famous, and wrote More, Now, Again: A Memoir of Addiction. She achieved perfect symmetry. She was depressed. She wrote a book about being depressed. This made her famous. She got even more depressed, and became a drug addict. She wrote a book about being a drug addict. You can’t help wondering what terrible personal experience she’ll write about next.
More, Now, Againhas nothing in common with such thrillingly sordid memoirs of addiction as William Burroughs’ Junky. Instead, it finds its strength in the often boring, banal minutiae of Wurtzel’s addiction and recovery. In her year in Florida, she has almost no human contact. She just sits in her apartment, snorting Ritalin and sleeping every few days. She watches television obsessively (she prefers nature shows and pornography, with which she becomes obsessed later in the book). She reads fashion magazines as research for Bitch. She eats nothing but Froot Loops and Frosted Flakes. She gets arrested for shoplifting. She becomes obsessed with picking hairs out of her legs, and this compulsive behavior leads her to dig into her legs with tweezers until they’re covered in oozing, infected sores. This is the goriest thing that addiction leads her to, because her enormous income keeps her from stealing to support her habit, and she always has somewhere to live. But, huge disposable income aside, Wurtzel’s addiction is not about recklessness. It’s a continuation of her life’s work: incessant self-examination. More, Now, Again reeks of psychoanalysis; Wurtzel tells us all about her broken home and failed relationships. Sadly, all her explorations into her warped psyche never seem to help her overcome addiction and depression.
My emotions fluctuated as I read this book. On one hand, it’s easy to identify with Wurtzel. She’s young, she has a sense of humor, she has really good taste in music, and her problems are fairly universal: loneliness, self-doubt, anxiety, and insecurity. On the other hand, it takes a lot of originality and talent to inject interest into a 329-page book about your own mental problems, with minimal plot to help you out. The memoir lacks literary artistry of any kind: it’s a readable, occasionally witty book, but it’s mostly just a straightforward, unedited account of what happened.
Perhaps a little editing would have allowed Wurtzel to portray herself in a more endearing light. Her incredible arrogance and her delusional attitudes toward life and career are often painful to read. Wurtzel makes constant references to literature, music, and film, which often don’t serve any purpose in the narrative except as a testament to her cultural literacy. She never misses a chance to remind the reader that she went to Harvard, and is well read in all fields. Every person she talks to ends up reminding her how pretty, and smart, and special, and talented, and charming she is, to her protests of “but you don’t really love me!” She’s full of disdain for anyone who’s less informed than she is, and she seems to think one of her main problems is that she’s just too smart. Sadly, all her intelligence and Harvard education couldn’t save her from writing a book that takes 329 pages to reaffirm the tenets of AA. “Redemption,” as Wurtzel calls it, is not very convincing, or interesting, when it comes through trite phrases like “in all of life, all any of us has is today” and “I am removed from what is happening, and I am sad because of that.” The best parts of the book come at the beginning, when she humorously embraces her self-destructive behavior.
With its confessional catalogue of emotions and disasters, More, Now, Again comes off a lot like the end of an episode of “Behind the Music.” You can just hear the ominous, delighted narrator saying, “Elizabeth Wurtzel thought she had everything—a best-seller, money, fame, looks, a loft in Greenwich Village, nights in all the trendiest restaurants and clubs. But then she fell prey to a terrible addiction, and almost lost everything.” Of course we get a sick, voyeuristic pleasure out of watching a privileged person’s descent into misery. But the pleasure is not enough to sustain our interest in Wurtzel’s predictable prose . At one point in More, Now, Again, she praises a young man as the best fiction writer of his generation. She tells us that she doesn’t say “the best writer of his generation,” because she’s saving the title of “best non-fiction writer” for herself. In order to win that honor, she needs to move beyond boring, vague references to the guidance of God and her need to submit to AA, reject her individuality, and find the “joy” within her. For this we read 329 pages of Ritalin snorting, leg picking, and shameless self-aggrandizement? Wurtzel sells her sorrow without artistry or original insights, and that’s the saddest thing about More, Now, Again.