In 1993 we received a manuscript from Elizabeth Wurtzel, a young attractive American author, about her depressive life and her addiction to Prozac.
Her agents asked for a large advance, which we felt we could not afford and countered their offer with a more modest one. They declined.
At that time, I used to spend ten days every month in New York and Elizabeth and I agreed to meet for dinner on my next trip. This we did and as a result forged a relationship which led to her becoming a real star in Britain thanks to a tremendous publicity campaign we launched on publication of her book, Prozac Nation.
By then, Elizabeth had instructed her agent to accept our original offer. Elizabeth was extremely promotable, sexily outrageous, and attired to kill. She more than raised the temperature of the British media who found themselves mesmerised by her sheer presence.
Notwithstanding the fact that she did a Marilyn Monroe trick of always arriving late, she seduced her interlocutors who forgot their frustration of having to wait for her.
In private, she was a handful to deal with. Tamara von Schenk, who worked at Quartet at the time as a publicist and who herself oozed glamour by the bucketful, was given the task of looking after Elizabeth. Here is what she had to say: ‘Of the many books that passed through my hands, the one I worked on in my last few months at Quartet was the most memorable. It involved a close association with the author herself, whose work and private life fused together with her hugely successful book Prozac Nation, which besides being my last was also the most challenging project. I went beyond the call of duty as publicity manager when I invited Elizabeth, depressed, paranoid, self-obsessed and highly complicated, into my home, where she stayed far longer than expected. I chaperoned her day and night during her publicity tour – it was an interesting experience to say the least. This title was the first personal account of a life of depression eased by the wonder drug Prozac, and as such marked a turning point in Quartet history and an end to my time there.’
In last weekend’s Sunday Times Style magazine there is an article by Jessica Brinton under the heading ‘The Lost Girl’ about Elizabeth. Wurtzel’s latest essay for the New York Magazine is called ‘Elizabeth Wurtzel confronts her one night stand of a life’. In the piece, Brinton writes: ‘Wurtzel, a 1990’s literary star for her book Prozac Nation, the first hyperbolic confessional about being young and bipolar, looks back at her 2012. She recounts the appearance in her apartment of a murderous former tenant who stalked her and eventually forced her to leave home. The experience brings her back to reflect on her vulnerability, with neither husband nor family to buffer her, and the lack of a long-term thinking that has led her at forty-five to be subletting in Greenwich Village instead of owning in Brooklyn Heights.’
The article has caused a small storm in America: while nobody is impressed by her little-girl-lost impression, it has struck a chord with free-wheeling single ladies who have taken a similarly alternative path to marriage, kids and mortgage.
Wurtzel goes on to ponder why it is that, after all her success, her loves and her adventures, she finds herself in storage renting ‘a dungeon’ in the wrong part of town with no financial backup and no one to look after her. She has a hunch it has to do with the fact that ‘stubbornly and proudly, emphatically and pathetically, I had refused to grow up and so I was becoming one of the city’s Lost Boys’.
Knowing Elizabeth as well as I do I believe she is her own worst enemy. Highly cultured and extremely intelligent, she let herself become a tortured soul, determined to see the darker side of life while abusing her body with drugs and odd experiments that trigger depression and render you a slave to a destiny hovering around suicidal impulses, which have hounded her most of her adult life.
It is sad to read that despite her immense talent she now finds herself at the young age of forty-five when women are at their peak both intellectually and sexually rather a forlorn and lonely figure, when she could have had the world at her feet and shone brightly like a star in the firmament for all to see.
Perhaps it is not too late. She must always remember the wise old saying that life is half spent before we know what it is.