The plot line of a biography is as follows: the person was born on x date, accomplished a, b, and c, and died on y date. From there, it is up to the writer(s) to add the details and color to the story they are telling.
Heather Clark’s biography of Sylvia Plath, entitled Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath, was published last October. Delving into Plath’s life and work (including The Bell Jar, one of my personal favorites), Clark takes the reader on a journey from Plath’s early years in New England in the 1930’s to her death in 1962 from lingering mental health issues. Using information that was previously unknown, Clark pulls information from interviews, unpublished works, and other documents to create a complete image of one of the greatest writers of the 20th century.
If there was ever a blue print on how to write a compelling biography, this is it. When I finished reading this book, I felt like I knew her. Not just as a poet and a writer, but as a human being. As a reader, it is one thing to connect to your favorite writer based on their work. But when you get to know them as an ordinary person, that is where magic happens.
It was published in 1963, just a month after Sylvia Plath took her own life.
Even through this is a work of fiction, there is an honesty and soul baring truth about what it is like to live with depression and mental illness.
Mental illness, unlike other diseases is not often obvious. There are many who appear on the surface to have it all, but suffer from crippling anxiety and depression.
It’s easy to say “you should get out more” or “get over it”.
Until you walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, you can never truly understand their point of view. To live with mental illness is like living with a huge weight on your shoulders. You may appear to be happy, but appearances are often deceiving. The weight is crippling, it sometimes feels as if it will never be lifted from your shoulders.
Sylvia Plath was one of untold many who have taken their own lives due to mental illness. She was also one of the most gifted writers of her generation. Unfortunately, we will never know what other characters and worlds she might have created for our reading pleasure.
In honor of what might have been, I raise a glass to Sylvia Plath, wherever she is. I also raise my glass to those of us whose lives have been overtaken by mental illness. May we find the peace we desire and may we all live to a very old age.
Sylvia Plath is literary legend. Fifty years after her death, her writing is still as powerful as it was during the initial publication.
The Bell Jar is one of her most famous works and one my favorite books. She tells the story of Esther Greenwood, a woman in early 20’s who on the surface appears to have everything one should want or need. And yet underneath, she is slowly disintegrating into madness.
Sylvia Plath was the daughter of immigrants, hard working, strong and intelligent, but also fighting against the rules that governed women of her generation. Affected by the death of her father during her childhood, Plath was a brilliant writer, but also plagued by bouts of depression and thoughts of suicide.
Andrew Wilson has done his homework, this book is meticulously written. The interviews with her classmates, family members and friends brings the reader into a very intimate and familiar place. Pulling back the curtain on this literary giant, we understand how her early life influenced her writing, her relationships and her eventual suicide at age 30.
It’s always interesting, both as a writer and a reader to get to know a fellow writer, to understand where they come from and how their experiences shape their writing. I enjoyed the book tremendously and I recommend it to anyone who just likes to read.