More, Now, Again
14 February 02
Katie Roiphe's speculative Charles Dodgson character-portrait, Still She Haunts Me, is deftly executed and intriguingly imagined, but I'll admit that I got to the end without discerning the point of the exercise, and am left wondering if it wasn't just a clever way for a scholar to produce a novel without actually having to think of a story to tell. In a sense I wonder the same thing about Elizabeth Wurtzel's addiction saga More, Now, Again, which preempts criticism of its story structure by labeling itself a memoir. Of the two approaches, scholarly abstraction and personal evisceration, I guess I prefer the latter. Technically Elizabeth's book is non-fiction, and Katie's is fiction, but Elizabeth's is the story in which the resolution is in doubt, and thus the one I more readily see the purpose of telling. More, Now, Again has gotten a number of appallingly antagonistic reviews, including one with the cruel headline "Oops, I Did It Again", but it seems to me most of the criticisms are misplaced. It's true, this is Wurtzel's second memoir, after Prozac Nation, and both of them involve addled mental states and compensatory chemicals, but Prozac Nation is about overcoming clinical depression, and More, Now, Again is about overcoming voluntary drug addiction. Far from repeating or devaluing Prozac Nation, in fact, for me More, Now, Again turns it into the first chapter of a much more interesting story it took Elizabeth twenty years to live and two books to tell. Prozac Nation ended tentatively, with a survived suicide attempt and that inexplicable day when the drugs started working and Elizabeth woke up not wanting to kill herself. It was an uneasy conclusion, so it comes as no great surprise, I think, when More, Now, Again picks up a few years later and finds Elizabeth's mental state fraying again. Exactly as the epilogue to Prozac Nation worried, drugs may not be sustainable answers. Elizabeth's Ritalin regimen turns into a debilitating amphetamine addiction with an associated cocaine habit, and the story follows her out of control, into rehab, through a relapse and finally to a hard-won clean that has now, if we decide to believe her, lasted just a little over two years. Answering questions at a reading in Cambridge, Elizabeth claimed that there will not be any more memoirs, that two detailed confessions of personal trauma and folly are enough for any one person. I think there is at least one more to come. Prozac Nation chronicled a war fought in the belief that Elizabeth's problems, and by extension anybody's, are amenable to chemical solutions. More, Now, Again reveals how fragile those chemical solutions often are, and begins to develop what might be more productive and personal theories for her behavior and fears. This second chapter ends with her finishing drug treatment, but recognizing that she is at a beginning, not a conclusion. Much of her therapy, especially towards the end of the story, has pressed on her attitudes toward romance and external affirmation, and when the book ends she is single. This story isn't over. I expect she'll write something different, next, and maybe two or three something-differents, but I believe there will be a third memoir. In Prozac Nation I thought Elizabeth made herself seem fairly awful, but this time she treats her own character with a little more compassion, and by the end I find myself wanting good things for her, and agreeing with her that she might almost be ready to deal with them. I believe the trilogy must end with a love story.