Elizabeth Wurtzel: Bitch – Pop Culture Essays by the Author of Prozac Nation

If you were around, at all, in the 90s, enough to remember grunge and rave and still have a touch of the flush of youth about you, then the name of Elizabeth Wurtzel is probably at least vaguely familiar. If you still can’t quite recall, then she’s the chick who wrote the misery memoir ‘Prozac Nation’ and sold a boatload of copies back when misery and Prozac were all the rage, along with flannel and guitars.

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Her subsequent tome, Bitch, is a collection of essays from a (sub?  Post?  Quasi?) feminist angle, taking a skewed look at a diverse collection of women who have been deemed troublesome, demonic or just plain annoying by the wider culture at different points in time.  (But largely in the twentieth century, though  Wurtzel talks a good game.)

Her subjects include Amy Fisher, Nicole Simpson and the biblical villainess Delilah, amongst others.  The book was not especially well-received initially, but Wurtzel can craft a persuasive argument and do a 360 around a subject that may take in some surprising angles you never thought of, and her level of scholarship is thorough.  Still, even though the focus is theoretically off herself and onto the subjects of her essays Wurtzel herself seems to creep rather a lot into the substance of her narrative.

Is the book worth reading?  If you have an interest in the treatment and presentation of women who transgress the unwritten social rules and taboos of their eras, then it’s an enjoyable ride, indeed.  My personal favourite is the lengthy treatment of the O.J. Simpson case and Nicole Simpson’s self, family and sisters.  As a picture of dysfunction and paper-thin apparently conventional relationships, it’s fascinating and creepy.  It makes me wonder just how healthy the norms we cherish are, if such dissociation and detachment can apparently conform to them.

But best of all?  The dedication.  Wurtzel is famous for her dedications, and one really dreads seeing her accept any kind of award: they’d have to get one of those shepherd’s crooks to ever get her off the stage.  Still, there’s a kind of valor and admirableness in never knowing when to stop, or just plain refusing to do so just because society or who the hell else tells you to…

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