Saturday, May 11, 2013

Lori Reviews Pain Parties, Work

Title: Pain, Parties, Work:  Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953
Author:  Elizabeth Winder
Published:  HarperCollins, 2013
Where I Got It:  I received this book from the publishers.

I really like Sylvia Plath.  I love her poetry--it's so honest and real.  Even more than that, I love reading her journals.  In her journals, she sounds like any other young college girl.  Her concerns are/were my concerns--boys, school, clothes, and her appearance.  Yet, you most often hear about Sylvia Plath the depressed artist.  While she was this, she also had bouts of normalcy that masked the pain.

That's what Elizabeth Winder seeks to explore in her study of the month that Plath was a guest editor at Mademoiselle magazine in New York.  Winder walks the reader through the entire process, day-by-day--what Sylvia did and saw each day of the experience.  Plath went into the month extremely excited to become a posh New Yorker.  She spent a good amount of her money on buying just the right clothes.  These clothes would be sophisticated without trying too hard to make her fit in.  She was ready and excited to see the culture of the city.  Yet this summer wound up being the summer Sylvia wrote so truthfully about in The Bell Jar.

Winder uses excerpts from Plath's letters and journal, as well as interviews from her fellow editors.  All of these portray Plath as a young woman who believed that females could be both smart and beautiful.  She was determined to be both.  She was not the pained artist who cared nothing about appearance.  She cared very much about the things that most 20 year old young women care about.  Still, she was quite disappointed and disillusioned by the experience of being a guest editor.

I really enjoyed reading this book.  I think that the author did a fantastic job of pulling together various sources to write a detailed description of Sylvia's month in New York.  I really like the organization of the narrative--Winder covers the first week before covering Plath's life before the guest editor position, the carries through to the aftermath of the month in New York.  She uses a lot of quotations from Sylvia's fellow editors, most of whom could not imagine that Sylvia's life would turn out as it did.  Why?  Because she seemed so much like them.  I like the extra features that Winder includes in the book, such as the text boxes that cover in more detail an aspect of Plath's life, such as talking about Plath's love of paper dolls as evidence of her love of fashion, or the chapter entitled "A Dictionary of Adolescence," which defines some important parts of Sylvia's life.

All in all, I think that this is a great book for anyone who is interested in learning more about Sylvia Plath or for anyone who really enjoys The Bell Jar.


  1. I am a fan of much of Sylvia Plath's work and poetry, and was interested in the book when I first heard about it, but was anxious to see how other fans would accept it (or not, if it turned out to be not up to expectations). I'm glad to hear that you, another fan of Plath's, really enjoyed it!

  2. I have been considering reading this one. I love your review you've almost convinced me to add it to my shelfari wishlist


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