Thursday, April 18, 2013

Book Review: Pain, Parties, and Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953

After a tragedy, I always struggle with what to say. I waffle and hem and hum and then ... it's days later and I've said nothing and I inevitably have a post promised to someone.

The same thing happened this time. My heart goes out to all the people affected by the tragedy in Boston. I guess that's all I really needed to say, anyway. You're all in my thoughts.

And now, segueing into regularly scheduled programming with a book review (eep. I hope that worked!)

Synopsis of Pain, Parties, and Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953 from the publisher:

“I dreamed of New York, I am going there.”
On May 31, 1953, twenty-year-old Sylvia Plath arrived in New York City for a one-month stint at “the intellectual fashion magazine” Mademoiselle to be a guest editor for its prestigious annual college issue. Over the next twenty-six days, the bright, blond New England collegian lived at the Barbizon Hotel, attended Balanchine ballets, watched a game at Yankee Stadium, and danced at the West Side Tennis Club. She typed rejection letters to writers from The New Yorker and ate an entire bowl of caviar at an advertising luncheon. She stalked Dylan Thomas and fought off an aggressive diamond-wielding delegate from the United Nations. She took hot baths, had her hair done, and discovered her signature drink (vodka, no ice). Young, beautiful, and on the cusp of an advantageous career, she was supposed to be having the time of her life.
Drawing on in-depth interviews with fellow guest editors whose memories infuse these pages, Elizabeth Winder reveals how these twenty-six days indelibly altered how Plath saw herself, her mother, her friendships, and her romantic relationships, and how this period shaped her emerging identity as a woman and as a writer.Pain, Parties, Work—the three words Plath used to describe that time—shows how Manhattan’s alien atmosphere unleashed an anxiety that would stay with her for the rest of her all-too-short life.

I guess I can't just say "if you already love Sylvia Plath or are at all interested in her and her work, this is a must read," because that would be a really short review, but honestly ... please see the line above. 

This book was supremely readable, which is not something I find myself thinking about many non-fiction books. It was as if my best friend was a Plath scholar and one day I sat down and said, "Hey, can you just tell me everything you know about what Sylvia Plath was doing in New York in the summer of 1953?" and she said, "Sure, grab a glass of wine; let's chat!" 

The Sylvia Plath of Pain, Parties, and Work is an entirely different Sylvia than that of The Bell Jar. It is not the sad woman who is most known for the method she used to end her short life. This Sylvia is young, happy, ambitious, eager. It is a new Sylvia who is fascinating to meet. I, like may people I know, only know about a tiny sliver of Sylvia Plath's life, yet I feel like I really know her on a intimate level. Perhaps it is because she was such a brilliant and tragic figure. Because she was so tragic AND I feel I know her personally, it therefore somehow makes me incredibly happy to know that she wasn't sad her entire life. Seeing her in the Summer of 1953 made me happy, and I am thankful to Elizabeth Winder for bringing her to me. 

I was provided a copy of Pain, Parties, and Work by TLC Book Tours but was not compensated for this review. The opinions expressed are my own.


  1. I know what you mean about moving on after a tragedy ... it is so hard to go back to the normal and mundane things of life.

    I'm glad that your first review after the tragedy was for a book that you enjoyed though.

    Thanks for being a part of the tour.

  2. "This book was supremely readable, which is not something I find myself thinking about many non-fiction books"
    I totally agree with you here...a reader interested in learning more about Plath but not a lover of non-fiction shouldn't shy away from this one. I read another review that described the format as similar to a magazine...with all the snippets and boxed areas, sidebars, photos, etc. I think those characteristics make the book such a smooth and easy non-fiction read! Enjoyed your review!


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