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Yet Sylvia knew how finely the cold war culture had groomed her. On some level she even reveled in America's flawed excess. She wrote with inront about" our tender steak juicy butter creamy million dollar stupendous land" well aware of her own fondness for steaks, butter and superlatives and sauces like mayonnaise, bearnaise and hollandaise.Elizabeth Winder's glimpse into the life of Sylvia Plath is focused on a moment, a whirlwind summer that Sylvia spent in New York as a guest editor for the college issue of Mademoiselle magazine. Although she occasionally telescopes out to view Sylvia as a young girl, or into the darkness of the suicidal Sylvia that most of us know, she mainly stays in the hot summer of 1953, in a New York filled with fashion and food and budding female friendships.
Winder's style is unique, if not always the easiest to read. She spatters the short chapters in her book with text boxes, with quotations and conversations, and with excerpts from Sylvia's journals. Her book is a collage, a scrapbook of the summer, including even a detailed description of the magazine that Sylvia co-edited that summer. The voices of the other co-editors (including the novelist Diane Johnson) are almost as prominent as the author's own voice. Winder also takes on some of Sylvia's poeticism, and many of the descriptive passages, especially of food, are lush and worthy of dwelling. Still, for this reader, the best parts of the book are the parts that Sylvia wrote, which outshine Winder's valiant attempts. In some portions of the book, there is a little too much fashion and frivolity for my taste as well. And although I understand the attempt to show another side of Sylvia, there is a lightness to several of the chapters that seems to ignore the seriousness of the life that is under examination. After all, Sylvia's first suicide attempt (as is covered at the end of the book) was just after her time in New York.
Although I have been a fan of Plath's poetry, I have never read The Bell Jar, and I imagine that this is a wonderful companion to that book. As a standalone, it left me wanting something a little more, which just might lead me into exploring more of Plath's own work.
Title:Pain, Parties, and Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953Author: Elizabeth Winder
Where I got it: From the publisher and TLC BOOK TOURS