My fellow Americans, as we begin a new year filled with hope and promise in the war against terror and germs; as the Afghan people rally at last to the call of democracy; as the president of the United States chokes on a pretzel, let's pause to remember an unsung statistic of Sept. 11: writer Elizabeth Wurtzel, rapidly aging "bad girl" and author, most famously, of "Prozac Nation: Young and Depressed in America." At this time of national crisis, Wurtzel's problems are bigger than you'd think. No sooner had she completed her latest confessional, "More, Now, Again: A Memoir of Addiction," than the twin towers fell down, barely a block from her new apartment in Tribeca.
"I realize you don't need drugs to have a perfectly miserable time," Wurtzel sniffs in a recent interview. "I lost my life as it is now," along with her clothes, furniture, CDs, needles, tweezers, razor blades, Ritalin, cocaine and whatever else she keeps around the house to remind her that pain -- personal, psychic pain -- is the sine qua non of her existence. Wurtzel's cat, Zap, also made it out of the house that day, as his mistress ran for her life in a rain of pumice and ash.
You should know that Zap is the only creature on Planet Earth who loves Elizabeth Wurtzel exactly as she is, whether "fucked-up" or "clean," and despite the abuse she's subjected him to since she first brought him home and made him her sidekick. Zap follows her around the house whenever she deigns to be there, licking her heels, kissing her face and gazing at her with his big, beautiful eyes. When she moves from one New York apartment to another, however, midway between treatment centers, psychiatrists, love affairs and television appearances, "Zap sits in the back of the car, by the window on top of the seat, panting and screaming, his tongue drooping and spittle dropping out of his mouth, petrified."
Whether it's Zap or the spittle that's scared to the point of immobility, Wurtzel is too busy and too important to explain in "More, Now, Again." If she had a heart, she'd buy him a companion, but that would be too risky: Zap might decide that happiness lies with a fellow feline, and then where would Wurtzel be? Her agent, former editor and full-time mentor, Betsy Lerner, has warned her that she's beginning to act "like an addict" again, and this fills her with delicious apprehension -- "addiction" being the next step up from "depression," if you look at it, as Wurtzel does, mainly in terms of book sales and gigs on "Politically Incorrect."
"You're not on drugs," Lerner advises, "but the whole approach you're taking to this is not unlike how you dealt with it when you were."
Wow! Wurtzel finds it "really unnerving" to think that she's a permanent, hopeless mess, despite her newfound sobriety in Alcoholics Anonymous -- I use the term loosely, since Wurtzel would rather submit to the boot and the rack than be anonymous about anything -- and despite the fact that Lerner has happily packaged and sold her in the past as "the Howard Stern of the page, the Hunter Thompson of the young feminists ... Editing Elizabeth Wurtzel is like editing a hurricane, like producing Courtney's albums, like mainlining sticky blue ink."
Well, I doubt it. If you mainlined sticky blue ink you'd be dead in a second, and the one thing about Elizabeth Wurtzel is that none of her troubles ever kill her. This is guaranteed. In fact, nothing gets her very far from the telephone, where her family, friends, old lovers and current well-wishers are always ready to buck her up, tell her she's beautiful, remind her that she's talented, sell her drugs and fill her prescriptions to specification. Daphne Merkin called "Prozac Nation" "the saddest, funniest and, ultimately, most triumphant book about youthful depression I've come across," which will give you a good idea of what it's about -- what all of Wurtzel's books are about: a neurotic, smart, sexy, rich, self-obsessed Jewish girl, with a compulsion to pluck the hair out of her legs while high on one thing or another.
"I can start tweezing at night," Wurtzel writes in "More, Now, Again," "not look up for what seems like minutes but is really much longer, and when I finally stop to take a break, the sun is shining." Addicts of a different era went to the races at moments like this, but not Wurtzel, who prefers to watch soap operas, rail against the death penalty and shoplift small items from department stores: "It is not sunrise, or even the morning -- it is sometime in the afternoon. I have not stopped for a sip of water, to change the channel on the TV ... or even to cut up new lines, because I keep a pile next to me from the time I settle down to do my tweezing. I prepare for this activity as other people would put together a picnic basket or take towels to the beach -- this is my recreation."
It's a dumb metaphor, of course, because most people who take towels to the beach do it only in order to dry themselves off after swimming, or to lie on the sand, whereas Wurtzel, in "More, Now, Again," imagines that every word she utters and every thought that pops into her head is fraught with meaning and portent. And still her new book goes nowhere: When she enters "recovery" for the first (third? fourth? ninth?) time, getting gooey all of a sudden about God and "spirituality," you know she doesn't mean a word of it, and you just wonder how long it'll take her to get tired of the game and go back to being the overage adolescent she is.
"And then The New York Times calls to ask me to write an op-ed piece," she writes at the end of her book. If anyone ever asked her to write about something besides herself she'd wither and blow off the vine. She's the Suzanne Somers of literary letters, self-created, self-maintained and "loved" at some inexplicable level of folderol and hype. If it makes her unhappy to hear this, I can only say, "Sorry, Elizabeth. Wake up dead next time and you might have a book on your hands."