Tamarasoo's Reviews > Prozac Nation

Prozac Nation by Elizabeth Wurtzel
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Mar 08, 2008

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“Homesickness is just a state of mind for me. I’m always missing someone or someplace or something. I’m always trying to get back to some kind of imaginary somewhere. My life has been one long longing.” Elizabeth Wurtzel

So I’m reading Prozac Nation right now, and the first thing that has become evident to me is that it is not, contrary to my expectations, really about Prozac at all. I had it in my head that it was some kind of ideological expose on the sad state of our pop-a-pill, medicatedly numb populace, but apparently I was thinking of some other book. Instead, Elizabeth Wurtzel’s Prozac Nation is a very long memoir of yet another “gifted” girl’s depression.
The second thing I am realizing is that perhaps I shouldn’t be reading this right now, when I have already spent the last 5 days in my bed in my own depressive state. My roommates haven’t seen me for 2 days. I listen to them vacuuming the hallway or letting the dogs out or cooking dinner and hope they will not knock on my door and make me face them in my despondency, and blessedly, they don’t. I am permitted to continue hiding, and finish 3 other depressing novels before picking up this one. Probably a bad idea—like the summer I spent with the curtains drawn reading Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, and Girl Interrupted, this is essentially just wallowing in it.
Anyway, I am having a little trouble deciding how to feel about the book. First of all, in my memory, I have associated Wurtzel with the feminist culture wars of the early 90s—a member, along with Naomi Wolf, Camille Paglia, and Katie Riophe, of the then new breed of anti-feminism. In those years, I was still riding the wave of old-school radical feminism, studying Caroline MacKinnon, quoting Andrea Dworkin, and not shaving my legs. At the time, I believed Wurtzel et al were trivializing the cause; these pretty feminists with their nude book covers and appeals to pop culture were reducing the earlier generation of feminists to prudish caricatures who hated sex as much as they hated men.
For all I know, I might be wrongly associating her with this crowd, confusing her with someone else—a hazard of reading a book that was once a cultural touchstone 15 years after its publication. Who has the time now to go back and look up the critical reviews and discussion? And yet, I want to know, what did other people think of this book? What did the NY Times and publishing circles say about it? Do other people think it is as whiny and self-indulgent and repetitive as I do, even while it speaks so directly to my own experience with the weltschemrz of depression? I don’t know if I respect it or hate it, and I want to know what others think now, and what others thought then. You just can’t let years go by before you read something or you miss out on the conversation. But according to Wikipedia, it seems the consensus is, yes, others do find Wurtzel as self-absorbed as I do, as indicated by a 2002 interview with the author in Toronto’s Globe and Mail, entitled, “That's enough about me, now, what do you think of me?"
It is impossible not to notice Wurtzel’s ego. I can’t count the number of times she describes herself as “full of promise”. She complains about her parents sending her to camp when she was young, “I was special! I had promise! And instead they threw me away and tried to make me ordinary! They threw me away with a bunch of normal kids who thought I was strange…” She insists in the sick competition of the victim that wherever she is, surrounded by the pain of others, “no one’s desperation came close to matching mine”. And then it bugs me how she makes all these grandiose pronouncements all the time, and all I can think is, “you’re fucking twenty five! What do you know about anything?!” Like how she insists time and time again that she doesn’t have a substance abuse problem, complaining after months of boozing and pill popping and tripping, “why the hell does everyone always think the problem is drugs?” I mean, maybe depression drives her to drink and use drugs, but it doesn’t mean it’s not still a problem. And anyway, how can you believe, at 25, that you really have all the answers and make such insistent, unquestioning edicts about what is true and what isn’t? Where’s the humility? Has she found it yet, after battling cocaine, heroin, and Ritalin addictions in the years after Prozac Nation’s publication?
But then, all of this is the nature of the beast really, for depression is nothing if not narcissistic. If her descriptions of her suffering seem repetitive, it is only because that is how it feels. I mean, I feel like I have nothing to say but the same old words every time depression rears its ugly head in my life again and again. Nothing could be duller than the redundant passages in my diary over the past 30 years of oh how very depressed I am. I am sure that everyone in my life is just as tired of hearing about my perpetual sadness as I am tired—so very, very tired, of feeling it. Whatever one might say about her, she absolutely hits the nail on the head, describing depression as “pure dullness,” involving “a complete absence: absence of affect, absence of feeling, absence of response, absence of interest.” I, too, want desperately to learn “how to live in a world where the phone company doesn’t care that you’re too depressed to pay the phone bill.” I look to therapy and Prozac to equip me with the emotional resilience necessary to life, for without it, I “can’t go with the flow, can’t stand steady while the boat rocks and rolls…. Years of depression have robbed me of that—well, that give, that elasticity that everyone else calls perspective.”
And yet, what bothers me most about this book is that essentially, I am jealous. It’s like fingernails on a chalkboard every time she complains of her terrible pain and ruined life, while writing yet another well-received piece of published literature. Yes, I am jealous that she was published in Seventeen magazine before she was even 17, won a Rolling Stone College Journalism Award, had a job with the Dallas Morning News, and wrote for the New Yorker. Why can’t I be so prolific in the throes of depression? I can barely update my Myspace profile. Here she is writing essays about feminism and Madonna and Edie Sedgwick, interviewing Poison and Tesla and the Butthole Surfers, and attending Willie Nelson’s 4th of July picnic, all while supposedly suffering so greatly. And yes, I am envious of her Harvard education, cushy hospitalizations, and her twice-weekly intensive therapy sessions—she went to Patti Smith’s therapist for Christ’s sake! What I wouldn’t have given for such attention and validation of my suffering. And the way she owns her depression, wears it like an eccentric sweater, a quaint, if slightly oddball character trait. Why can she unabashedly break down in tears on the bathroom floor in the middle of a party, as opposed to me, hiding my depression under a cloak, so deathly ashamed of my tired old grief and emptiness?
I’d like to ask her if she has, as the media blurbs on the cover of the book attest, really come back from the dark side. Has she actually found the magic medication combination that allows her not to suffer so greatly? And if so, can she tell me the secret? Or does she still find herself now, 20 years later, as I do, in remarkably the same position as she was in as a teenager, even after the years of Prozac? After 6 years of the wonder drug, I no longer think it is working. I don’t want to live my life in a medicated haze, but I also don’t want to experience these dehabilitating and crippling bouts of depression anymore. So bring me the Prozac nation, or whatever pill will make me happy. Please. And then publish my memoir.
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Reading Progress

March 8, 2008 – Shelved
Started Reading
March 23, 2008 – Finished Reading

Comments (showing 1-9 of 9) (9 new)

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message 1: by Stephanie (new) - added it

Stephanie Tamarasoo,

This is an excellent review. I love the way you write!

message 2: by Alice (last edited Jul 12, 2008 02:53PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Alice Lee Whatever you've said is essentially, exactly what went through my mind as I read that book. "Hey, I'm depressed for years and years too and it f'n sucks, I'm tired of it, everyone around me is tired of it, I identify with many of your words, but why do YOU get to be the one raised above it and celebrated for being self-absorbed?"

Or something like that. It really comes down to jealousy, yes I know.

Anyway, thanks for writing that long review, voicing for those of us who may also feel that way.

Tamarasoo thanks for joining me in my jealousy. perhaps one day we too will be celebrated for our angst!

message 4: by Lindsay (last edited Feb 25, 2009 09:12PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lindsay Tamarasoo, I also thought this book would be a quasi-scholarly critique of, well, Prozac Nation. I blame the title. If you've titled your book "(Blank) Nation," it seems to me you owe your readers a general argument of some kind.

I did like it, though. It just was really not what I thought it would be.

message 5: by Julie (new)

Julie Wonderful review. I haven't read this book yet for many of the reasons you mention...I knew it was said to be self-pitying and about depression. I'm not sure I'm in a place where I should be reading that right now. I will eventually, I know. When I do, I'll be sure to share my thoughts with you.

Tamarasoo thanks julie, look forward to hearing what you think. i understand what you mean about maybe not being in the place to read it right now, sometimes you just need some feel good fiction!

message 7: by Katie (new)

Katie Well said!

message 8: by Kayla (new) - added it

Kayla Wow great review i was on Prozac at the age of 14-18 and to see a movie that shows the true life of a person that has depression and suffer through the mental fights each and everyday i was amazed with the movie and even more so the movie

message 9: by Anji (new) - added it

Anji Tamarasoo,you have fully moved me with the insight inti your suffering with this bloody soul and life destroying illness,that no-one understands or can even attempt to understand,unless they have experienced it themselves. Having lived with it for most of my life,I,too likr a olot of other people have delayed reading this book. i only took Prozac for a short time and this "so-called" wonder drug did nothing for me,I seem to recall that it made me shake quite badly and it also made me a little aggressive, so decided to stop taking it. I have not completed the book yet,so cannot give an opinion on Ms Wurtzel's experience of depression,but what I can say is that each person who lives with depression has different experiences of it.I can empathise with how you fewel,have often had dark,dark days in my life where I have shut myself away from people and have avoided any human contact,while perversely inside I am imploring someone to see my pain. i hope that you do find sone way if dealing with this terrible illness. unfortunately I think that those of us who do suffer,will always experience the burden of depression,it is not always reactive on it's own it is in the genes.

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