Friday, March 25, 2005

50 in 05: The Bell Jar

#9: The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath. What the shit? How did this one get away from me for so long? Where were you, my trusty readers, a few months back when I was looking for female coming-of-age stories? Well, in case y'all didn't know, Sylvia Plath is really funny. This was on my reading list for a class on Autobiographical Fiction, and being a class full of writer-types, you'd be surprised at how much of the conversation was stuck in "she writes very accurately about depression" mode. One fella even said that the depressed tend to see the world very objectively, since they know they can't change anything. He also has chronic stomach problems.

I'm not a big fan of poetry, you know? I like a few poets--I like listening to Saul Williams rather than reading him, and I like reading Raymond Carver's poems rather than watching a movie about his stories. I haven't read any of Sylvia's poems, but she writes a balls-out novel. It's the lack of likes that really get me--her doctor's desk is an acre, her chair is cavernous, Esther would see a tiny Alp in her eyeball after she visited Europe. It's all true and factual, the metaphors are real and not metaphors at all. I mean, they *are* metaphors, but, you know--there's a big difference between BEING and BEING LIKE, and it's of such a size you often don't see it until it's right there in front of you.

In my own work, that specific word choice signifies a certain confidence in language. I remember being in class when it first happened, when I saw the difference the absence of 'like' could make. I said, "It's making the metaphor real," and my teacher Carey said, "Yeah," and then I said, "Yeah!" and, and holy shit, man! That's magic! It carries greater weight in first-person accounts. It imbeds you deep in the perspective of who is telling the story. It's a reminder that the story is subjective, that it's a perception being reported. I like that reminder.

So, the Bell Jar: really, really good book. And if you've ever read Sylvia's journals, you know she went on a lot of blind dates. Those are really funny, too.

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