Review: Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women

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I guess the point is that Amy Fisher has emerged as a heroine — and even a martyr — in this story, at least as far as I am concerned, because it seems far preferable to be Amy Fisher in prison that Mary Jo anywhere on earth — even before she was shot.

Harvard alum and New York op-ed bad-girl Elizabeth Wurtzel has a few things to say about the state of feminism, when a fist feel like a kiss and how hard it is to nab a husband. If this sounds like a literary dark ride through a bipolar stream of consciousness, credit yourself one quarter. Wurtzel demonstrates a school marm’s love of SAT words (eg. ‘inchoate’, ‘deracinate’, ‘Sturm und Drang’) and dazzles the reader with the wealth of her knowledge of ancient biblical and greek tragedies, pop culture, and American cinema. Readers expecting a hagiography of historical women of will and dignity will be disappointed. So too will those readers expecting a rational and consistent essay on the plight of (American) women be left wanting. Instead, Wurtzel unleases a torrent of ideas that range from rage to remorse, but all revolve around the author.

Wurtzel appears to get in her own way — the narrative is frequently interrupted and then interrupted again until the orginal thought has long since been forgotten. When I went to school (Wurtzel and I are nearly the same age), this was called a run-on sentence. Now, it appears to be called ‘style.’ Wurtzel is clearly a talented writer who needs to better edit herself. Had Bitch been half the size, the tenuous thesis (“it’s hard to be a grrl”) might have been better received. Also, using movies to support one’s ideas about the human condition can be somewhat less than compelling. After all, I’ve seen documentaries on Industrial Light and Magic and what they can do with empty film.

Let’s just forget the chapter in which she pines for a romance twinged with violence.

But I know this is slippery logic. If we condone this little bit of brute force [spanking], from men — and by definition, by asking them to be just men and be different from women, we kind of do — should we not consider it part of our opportunity costs in dealing with these creatures that it will sometimes get ugly, that it will occasionally get real?

I believe the fantasy violence of spanking is really a very separate deal than real violence. I don’t believe the motivations for real abuse are the same as those who like their bottoms trouced. But, this is the kind of ride Wurtzel takes us on. Bitch reminds me of many late night college discussions (often involving a controlled substance) that I had at BC. Of course, those discussions could be forgiven for digressions that led nowhere and never quite saying anything.

For all the overarching faults, this book shines in many places. Those looking for a summer read could do worse than to pull out this book while the heat melts away their brains. If I were to adopt the Filthy Critic’s rating system, this book would get three fingers (“not so fucking bad”).

Next on my night table: Tom Vanderbilt’s Survival City: Adventures Among the Ruins of Atomic America.

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