on November 26, 2001
Wurtzel's stated intent is to give the reader an idea of what it is like to be with someone who is depressed, and this is her justification for endless tales of her symptoms: yes, then I was in the hospital AGAIN, etc. Some readers find this grating, as though Wurtzel has made her point once, and please, could she move on to something else.
Personally, I found it interesting and revealing. No matter where she went, or what she was doing, or how much her friends cared about her, she still had those same old symptoms. That's clinical depression as opposed to someone who is in a difficult situation and therefore feeling lousy.
She needs to make this abundantly clear, because the final point, and the justification for her book's title, depends on the reader understanding the depth and breadth of her depression, and the etiology of it-- or lack of a clear cause, if that is a better way to put it. Wurtzel is not unhappy because her parents are divorcing, or because she was forced to go summer after summer to camps she hated, or because she disliked her afterschool program, or because high school was difficult for her academically (it wasn't). She's just depressed because there's something about Elizabeth Wurtzel that is bound to be depressed.
This leads into her late stated thesis: Prozac, and drugs like it are the Philosopher's Stone for people with this kind of ontological depression. But everyone seems to be taking something for the mildest and most transient of melancholias. Prozac has almost become a by-word for something doctors throw at hypochondriacs to make them go away.
So the same drug that saved Wurtzel's life was becoming something that cheapened her real disease, and caused people to whisper "she really could just shake it off, but she's taking the easy way out."
Before Wurtzel brings Prozac into the story, she desperately wants to show the reader that if it were merely a question of shaking it off, there would be no book.
Personally, I found her narrative voice pleasantly engaging, but I will admit that it is distinctively marked by her generation, to which I also belong. Her words rang in my head like conversation with a good friend. Someone much older or younger might have difficulty engaging with the narrative.
This question of the narrative voice may date the book eventually, but then so will the whole subject of Prozac and its over or under prescription, so I don't think it is a criticism to observe that Wurtzel chose to use such a marked writing style.
Whether one has been through depression or not, this book is fascinating. It's a trip through a generation growing up, through Jewish camps and Hebrew school for those who remember them, and depression for those who want comfort in company, or those who want to know more. I would recommend it to anyone.
on October 26, 2000
Ms. Wurtzel's book may seem like a long, drawn out, sarcastic whine at first glance, but ultimately, is an excellent source of reference in understanding depression. If you have a friend or loved one who has experienced this disease and are longing for a way to really know what they feel - this book may provide insight. All the tales she tells, the tears, the scenes in public, the lethargy, the manic spells...all is real for one in the clenches of depression. Her book helped me to realize that while sadness and challenging life experiences are universal, certain personalities (eg. highly artistic) and certain brain make up, are more prone to struggling with this disease. It would be so easy if the solution was to just "bite the bullet," but put simply, there is nothing easy about depression. And let's face it, people don't actually bite bullets anymore thanks to medical advancements. Wurtzel's book illuminates this point well. It was published at a time I needed to understand what was happening to me, to know I was not alone, to know that all the tears, all the humiliation, and all the black spells were, to some extent, "okay". It also helped me to see it for what it was, a private battle I could win.
on February 10, 2004
I enjoyed the first few chapters of this book--I liked her writing and her frankness. But then, you start to see a lot of holes in the story. Wurtzel's constant complaint is that they have no money. But yet, she attends private school, lives on the upper West side of Manhattan, goes to Harvard (no mention of who's paying that bill), and just jets around to wherever she wants to go while she's in college. Ooooh, I feel like LA this weekend. Off we go. How about Dallas? These aren't the common problems people without money usually deal with.
What was curious is that she skipped her entire high school years. I kept looking to see if I missed something, but oops, Wurtzel forget to put it in. She takes us through middle school, where she's starting to cut her legs, be depressed, and fail in school. She's starting to be a mess. And then all of a sudden, we go from age 12 to Harvard! Umm, what happened in between? How did she manage to get into Harvard? Did she become unpsychotic, pull up her grades, attend high school as a normal girl? Did her depression go on vacation for 4 years, and then come back to her in college? I found this rather distracting, as she gives no information on how she ended up there, and who is paying for her bill.
Anyway, I got about 2/3 through and then just stopped because it got repetitive. The same story. There was no growth, no change, Wurtzel didn't seem to want to get rid of her depression. She was now in her early 20s yet acted like the ten year old she was earlier in the book.
Judging from the skipped high school years, I tend to think she made a lot of this up. And that really bothered me.
on October 19, 1999
When I first read this book, I was in high school struggling with depression and I thought that reading about someone else's struggle would help me. In this case I was wrong. I found the book extremely pessimistic and hopeless. This is not the kind of thing you want to be reading when you are in the midst of a full blown attack of the hell that is depression. It will only make your world darker and more frightening. It is however, an interesting book if you can detatch yourself from it. I wasn't able to do that.
on May 6, 2002
I was personally insulted and mystified by this book. I have had chronic depression for years and I did not see anything even remotely resembling my own experiences in this book. I did see a self-absorbed little brat who whined incessantly for a few hundred pages. In my amateur opinion Wurtzel does have a mental illness but it's a personality disorder, like borderline perhaps. It is not depression. For a good account of the true story of depression read William Styron's memoir Darkness Falls instead of this piece of self-indulgent tripe.
on February 7, 2003
Utterly inconsolable? Yes.
I would like to start off with one positive thought: Elizabeth Wurtzel had excellent qualifications for writing this book, because she appears to have been an extremely depressed. Outside of this, I have nothing good to say about the book.
The title promises a book with highly insightful things to say about depression (specifically, the experience of being depressed in America and all that it entails), but that's not what you'll find between the tortured-looking girl on the front cover, and several quotes from fashion magazines on the back. Instead, you will hear the pseudo-profound rantings of an uneducated girl who is eager to blame nearly all of her problems on her circumstances and the people in her life. I will acknowledge that her upbringing was not exactly first-rate, but it was not HORRIBLE by any means. Wurtzel makes her lower-middle-class, one-parent household seem like some version of hell... And she also implies that if only she had had more money and parents who loved eachother, she could have had a better life. Having grown up gifted and manic-depressive with two very wealthy, loving parents, I have come to understand that sometimes we need to take responsibility for our own healing; Wurtzel has either not realized that or she refuses to accept it, as evidenced by her constant whining about circumstances.
Wurtzel's endless complaining gives the book a tone of unbearable self-indulgence... somewhat akin to the child on the playground who refused to share his toys. The word "I" becomes nearly as imporant as in Ayn Rand's novel, ANTHEM. One word: EGO.
All of this is topped off by Wurtzel's hideous writing style, but I won't bother to go into that.
I would not reccommend this book to others... one's time would be better spent with Sylvia Plath's THE BELL JAR.
on June 13, 1999
Elizabeth Wurtzel does a decent job of conveying what depression is like. But the fact that she has been depressed does not make this an insightful book. One of the jobs of a writer is to take personal experience and make it transcend their own individual experience, to make it relevant and emphathetic to many people. Wurtzel, however, seems convinced that she is the only depressed person to walk the earth. Yes, that is how many depressed people feel, but if she means to summarize her experiences and give them literary merit, some reflection and perspective is necessary. Her self-absorbtion dominates this book. In addition, Wurtzel feels the need to constantly remind us that she went to Harvard, and exactly how many awards she has won for her writing. These assertions of her brilliance would seem a little more plausible if the book was at all well written. Instead, it reads as if Wurtzel spoke it into a tape recorder and had it transcribed. A little judicious editing might have made this into a readable book instead of a self-absorbed riff.
on May 23, 2003
I found this a difficult book to react to. It was challenging for me to separate my reactions to the quality of the story and the personality of the author. That this was an autobiography made it even more difficult to make this distinction.
I was a fan of the delivery. I feel that the author did a great job of accurately portraying her mindset at each point in her life. She has an arcane ability to give a pure and accurate description of what was going through her head at each of her highs and lows, and she has got a lot of talent which has served her well. The rawness of her descriptions and frankness of delivery contributed to the overall poignancy of the story.
As for the author's story and the situations which she put herself into, I really wanted to smack her sometimes. Making it through this book and keeping from getting livid at some of her stupid and selfish antics was very difficult. As one who suffers as well, I have arrived at the conclusion that people can only help themselves (she eventually came around to this notion as well). Yet she seemed to believe that everyone else's duty on earth was to put up with her [stuff] and make her life as easy as possible. To read about her banal histrionics ("Oh, I'm soooo miserable in London", or at Harvard, or in NYC) and the awful things she put that poor doctor (not to mention her poor mother) through were enough to put me over the edge. If anything, her parents should have been more strict with her as a kid to teach her some respect and restraint. Yet all she could do was feed her own self-indulgences and blame it on everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) but herself. It's London's fault for being too wet (well, what did you expect?). It's Harvard's fault for letting me do this (well, what did you expect?). It's my doctor's fault for giving me all these drugs (you asked for them). Her lack of self-accountability and use of her mental state as a convenient excuse for all of her unacceptable behaviour is truly appalling.
All in all, this book definitely elicited a reaction from me (I guess that was the point, after all) and made me see my own situation in a whole new light. Although I pity this woman and all of the people whom she has tormented, I appreciate the lucidity of her storytelling and clarity of her message (although it repels me).
on February 1, 2000
"That's the thing I want to make clear about depression: It's got nothing to do with life. In the course of life, there is sadness and pain and sorrow, all of which, in their right time and season, are normal- unpleasant, but normal. Depression is in an altogether different zone because it involves a complete absence: absence of affect, absence of feeling, absence of response, absence of interest".(taken from the first chapter of Prozac Nation, 'Full of Promise'). I finished reading Prozac Nation a couple of days ago & it's still on my mind. The first thing someone would think after finishing this book is "how self absorbed can this girl be?". But that's exactly the point! Depression brings so much pain or even worse, absence of feeling, to the person who suffers...sometimes there is no room for anything else except the pain. The thing any depressed person wishes is for this intensity of feeling to end, for the chance to spend energy on others, to turn your eyes away from yourself. Elizabeth Wurtzel is very succesful in describing what goes on exactly in the mind of a truly depressed person. Whatever the reasons that brought you there depression is an illness & a very tough one to recover from & Wurtzel does a very good job of explaining her own fight with depression, without putting blame on anyone in particular, understanding that the exact same circumstances may lead one person to depression and the next person to a happy, fulfilled life.
on November 17, 2003
Wurtzel's experiences with mental illness make for entertaining reading. The woman has a penchant for raging, out-of-control, public spectacles that make Courtney Love seem shy and demure in comparison. But speaking as someone who suffers from depression, I think that Wurtzel may be afflicted with something closer to bipolar disorder. Depressed people tend to be quiet and withdrawn, but Wurtzel describes frequent binges of sex, drugs, creative output and impulsive behavior that are typical of mania, not depression. And in the afterward, she *complains* about how common a drug Prozac has become! She seems threatened by the possibility that the uniqueness and severity of her illness are being co-opted by all the Johnny-come-latelies. Don't worry, Elizabeth, we all know you're a real kook.