If Elizabeth Wurtzel Doesn’t Talk To Your Kids About Elizabeth Wurtzel, Who Will?

by evanmcmurry

Even some of the best confessional literature has the nasty odor of moral laundering—of smuggling the author’s misdemeanors under the noble drapery of literature—and Elizabeth Wurtzel is far from the best. Until now this didn’t matter because she for the most part has saved us from reading her books by not writing very many of them. But this week’s New York has an excerpt of her newest memoir, which seems to be primarily about how she hasn’t done anything since writing her last one.

Q: Does a major section of the excerpt begin with her Googling herself? A: Yes, it does. Wurtzel apparently wants to have her achievement cake and eat it, too; so in a rather short section she manages to inform us that she profiled Bret Easton Ellis at 17; has made a career out of writing without working very hard at it or even caring very much about it; not only met David Foster Wallace but met smarter people than he; graduated law school without trying very hard at it or caring very much about it, yet still found a better law job than your law job, one that pays more than your lousy job, though she still “believe[s] in true love and artistic integrity—the kinds of things that should be mentioned between quotation marks—as absolutely now as I did in ninth grade,” and thus doesn’t consider money very important and in fact thinks the rest of you are prostitutes, though, to be clear, she does earn more than you. Oh, and she rents a room in lower Manhattan, but don’t worry—she can’t stand it!

The careful reader might observe at some point in her piece—right around the time she pairs herself with T.S. Eliot but rolls her eyes at the effort of doing so—that Wurtzel might have taken the easy localness of Socrates’ “know thyself” imperative without the rigor of its corresponding assignment. Know thyself? Sure! Wurtzel doesn’t even have to leave her SoHo apartment to do that. But, as Noreen Malone rightly points out, confessional literature punches its ticket via ruthless honesty, both qualities sorely lacking from Wurtzel’s oeuvre. Wurtzel finds plenty of words with which to congratulate herself—multiple times, in case any of you journalism or publication interns out there might miss it—for making a living at writing (again, while barely trying), but neglects to mention that her publisher, Penguin, is suing her for her advance, as she never actually produced the book she promised, from which this piece is supposedly an excerpt.

Knowing that—and knowing that despite this Wurtzel is still being published in New York, even though she treats writing the way most of us treated our first sandwich shop or retail counter or office temp job—makes her prose-costumed vanity all the more insufferable. Wurtzel doesn’t even have to try to succeed, and still she underdelivers, and still she gets published, and still she wants pity for it. Socrates’ command was “know thyself,” not “console thyself via glossy magazine.” It’s hard to see what value the latter has for anyone, including Wurtzel herself.

P.S. In case you went to Brown:

[I] was horrified when my college guidance counselor suggested that I might prefer Brown to Harvard because I was, as he put it, ‘offbeat.’ I did not understand what he did not understand about me: I had been planning to go to Harvard since I was 6 years old.

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