Monday, February 24, 2014

The Bell Jar

by Sylvia Plath

It seems I fall into book rut more and more frequently, lately. I'll be a quarter or half-way through multiple books, and nothing's really grabbing me yet. The Bell Jar is what pulled me out of my rut this time (of all things). This is a book I could live inside. I unabashedly love this book, however cliche that may seem. I cannot adequately articulate how much I love the passage about Esther's life branching out like the fig tree. It hits me on a level that is beyond words. It resonates every time. There's so much I love about this book

I first read The Bell Jar in high school (and subsequently wrote an awful, very short one act play about the book, which was essentially what I thought Esther's interview with the asylum review board would look like. It put people to sleep. An rightly so. I try not to think about it.) I feel like my teenage self, rereading this book, and not in a bad way. I'll bet if I could find the copy I read in high school, I'd find that I've marked the same passages and sentences in both copies. But I can certainly connect with Esther more now than I could then. (And these are the kind of sentiments that cause my mother to worry about me.) My heart goes out to Esther. Who hasn't felt their life branching out before them like a fig tree? Not knowing which fruit to choose, paralyzed by the fear of choosing the wrong one, and this watching the fruit rot on the branch and fall to your feet? Doctors and lawyers, I suppose. They seem to know what they want to be when they grow up straight from birth, and have a pretty set career path. English majors, on the other hand. . . 

I appreciate the open-ended quality of the book as well. If the shock treatments had definitively cured Esther, that would ring false and too convenient, and I would be disappointed. Instead, although the bell jar has temporarily lifted, Esther worries about it trapping her again some day. However, in the beginning chapter she does mention something about her having a child now as she looks back on her life, implying she's fine now, married, and even had children. What I don't like about this book, and I understand it's representative of the time, is the emphasis on marriage and children. Esther thinks her life will fall into place once she's evened the playing field and slept with someone, and feels liberated by her diaphragm which ensures she won't be trapped into marriage by a pregnancy. And yet she ends up married with a child anyway. What happened the Esther who didn't need a man? She rears her head so briefly. She seems empowered by women like Philomena and Jay Cee, but also slightly weirded out by them and doesn't want their special attention. Ester wants to be singled out and special, but also not. She wants to be a self-sufficient writer, but also a house wife, despite her thinking she can't be successful at either. Sometimes I find Esther a little disappointing. But she doesn't know herself. And, by the end of the novel, I still don't think she does.     

I don't like to read this book through a biographical lens, but it's difficult not too. Which makes the ending especially sad because we know the bell jar did trap Plath again later in life. As much Esther seems to believe it, protected sex and eventual marriage don't fix everything. 

Despite the unresolved quality of the novel and its themes of depression, being paralyzed in the face of so many choices to make, and the presumption of marriage, I have such a fondness for this book. After I finished it, I immediately though, I should read this book again.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

And then my brain exploded

This was, by far, one of the best readings I've gone to. Colum McCann's writing is exceptional, and he's an incredibly nice man. He even read a new, unpublished story. I even managed to not gush. . .too much.

Saturday, February 1, 2014