The XX Factor

Elizabeth Wurtzel, Self-Described Crazy Person, Administers Relationship Advice

Wurtzel at the Brooklyn Book Festival in 2010.

Photo by David Shankbone/Wikipedia Commons

Elizabeth Wurtzel—the woman who gave us the depression memoir Prozac Nation in her 20s, and several longform essays on whether she is hot or not in her 40s—is writing a new book. (Never mind that her publisher sued her for not finishing the last one.) This one, she revealed in a Reddit AMA yesterday, will be “a history of love at first sight in New York City. It will also be a history of New York City.” True to form, it will also be a history of Wurtzel herself. “I have not succumbed to the charms of marriage, because I love falling in love,” she wrote in attempting to summarize the book. “I may yet get married—statistically 90% of people get married at some point. But I would say that love and craziness has overwhelmed my life, and I am trying to write about it, and at the same time tell the story of New York City from 1609 to the present.”

Craziness has overwhelmed Wurtzel’s life, and also her work (she dropped the word five times in a January New York Magazine essay that was, in fact, crazy). That was provocative and possibly even helpful in her memoir about a youth spent mentally ill, but it’s lost its charm as Wurtzel’s work has veered, Cat Marnell style, into the realm of self-help. In the AMA, she gave a taste of her relationship advice to young women living in New York today:

I think it is important to have a plan. I am 46 and not married, and I am happy, but I don’t recommend this. My life is this way because I am pretty crazy and very intense, which is not good for marriage and family, but I think that is mostly what works. I also think having a career that is on track is what works. Having an orderly life is a good thing. In truth, my life is quite orderly in its way. I work very hard at writing, and I am a devoted friend, and when I am in a relationship, I am a devoted girlfriend. It is shocking how much time I spend with my crazy mother. And I have a dog, which is a huge responsibility. But I am carefree compared to people with families. And I think that weight probably feels good.

So Wurtzel is happily single and childless, but only because she is nuts. This creates a kind of self-help paradox: Should we model our lives after a self-described crazy person, or follow her counterintuitive advice gleaned from years of living as a crazy person? Bad advice is kind of Wurtzel’s brand at this point, but given the number of young women fawning over her on Reddit this week, it’s probably worth pointing out that being single does not make you crazy, and more importantly, having a baby won’t make you sane. Thanks to Wurtzel and the drug-fueled memoirists who came up in her wake, “I’m crazy” has become a tactic for glamorously dancing around legitimate mental health issues. That may help Wurtzel continue to land book deals, but she and her readers don’t need self-help; they just need help.