I had to read Elizabeth Wurtzel’s “My One Night Stand of a Life” in New York Magazine because it made so many people so furious, and when a Slate writer says its appearance means that the memoir “finally hits bottom,” and that it’s “as lengthy as it is incoherent,” how can it not be worth a look? What could Wurtzel have done? Was this the journalistic equivalent of an Ann Coulter rant, a Celine Dion album, a Nancy Meyers movie? Alas, no: it’s simply a catalog of complaints and bad choices seemingly written in a series of unconnected sprints and tenuously linked into one long defiant whine, so I’m going to go ahead and think of it as an Elizabeth Wurtzel Greatest Hits album, and let’s face it, if she were Liz Phair or Alanis Morissette or Fiona Apple, the accusations of self-indulgence would be beside the point. If Prozac Nation were her Exile In Guyville or Jagged Little Pill, and here she was down the road still carrying that early-success-baggage and mining her turbulence for material, sorting through the mess in middle age, I don’t think the blades on the knives would be as sharp.
We expect artists to share their emotional turmoil, and maybe Wurtzel picked up the wrong instrument. Maybe she should have learned to play guitar instead of going to law school, or pitched a 40-something version of Girls to HBO about a woman who has been living, as she puts it, like a 25 year old since she was fifteen and continues to behave the same way three decades later. Christina Ricci can reprise the role she played in the film of Prozac Nation.
I’m not going to defend the piece. A sentence on the first page (“They always sent pairs of very fat female cops.”) almost made me give up right there, because come on, overweight women couldn’t begin to comprehend the danger to a woman who can still sport her old pair of 501 jeans? But I’m not certain why, of all the narcissistic, insular first-person writing that’s out there these days (you’ve heard of the internet, right?), this particular example has generated such a visceral reaction. Is it because she squandered her talents (moxie, self-promotion, personal charm)? Because she was over-indulged and over-rewarded, anointed “a voice of a generation”? Because she’s pretty? I only encountered her once, when she was writing on pop music for The New Yorker and she came to a show by one of the artists on the label I worked for, and it was an “uh oh” moment for me, because she seemed sexy and flighty and unbalanced and that was the kind of girl I’d always been drawn to. A few more minutes of conversation and it could have been a minor crush. Young women who have that kind of effect on older men are always suspect: “Is that how she got the New Yorker gig?” There were all these suspicions, and I call sexism on that, but that’s part of the underlying Wurtzel narrative, I think.
“My One Night Stand” is annoying, no doubt, and it’s weird that no one at New York mag appears to have copy-edited it: it rambles and digresses, and it’s tough to have sympathy for a woman who’s made all this money and had all these opportunities but hasn’t managed to open a bank account. How difficult would that have been, for someone who’s so insistent on not being financially supported by a guy, to sock away a few bucks instead of buying a Birkin bag with her substantial Bitch advance? But I’m inclined to give her a little slack. “I’m so done with 2012,” the piece begins. “What a wretched year it was.” Amen to that, and I hope things get better for all of us, Ms. Wurtzel included.