Mon, Jul 19, 2004 - Page 16 News List

Addicted to depression

The book `Prozac Nation' was published 10 years ago and defined in many ways the `zeitgeist' of the time. The book has been made into a film that is yet to be released

By John Harris  /  THE GUARDIAN , London


For the past six months, I have been trying to hold a conversation with Elizabeth Wurtzel. Each week, I have phoned both her land line and mobile, leaving messages intended to flatter her into returning my calls, but I have managed only one brief exchange: a stilted, slightly surreal chat which focused on her mother's dog (whose yapping rather drowned her out) and which ended with the setting of an appointment for an interview that never happened.

I've also received two e-mails, thanks to which I can report that first, Wurtzel has decided belatedly to go to law school, to do her bit to ensure the legal profession is not dominated by conservative men, and second, she does a quite convincing impression of contrition -- "I'm so sorry; I feel dreadful about this."

My quest to speak to the 36-year-old American was based on the 10th anniversary of Prozac Nation, the memoir of depression whose shadow still eclipses Wurtzel's subsequent books, the babbly, post-feminist polemic Bitch, and More, Now, Again, a grimly solipsistic account of being addicted to snorting the childhood hyperactivity drug Ritalin (in Florida, naturally enough).

The latter two are still on the shelves, soon to be joined by a slim self-help manual entitled Radical Sanity, but it is Prozac that has been favourably compared to Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar and translated into 20 languages. A call to a friend who works for a national book chain confirms its continuing sale: in its shops alone, the book manages a weekly average of 20 copies, no mean feat for a work first published a decade ago.

It has also been made into a film, though in keeping with its author's reputation for recurrently stumbling into mishap, the movie, in which Christina Ricci plays Wurtzel, looks ever-more likely to remain unseen. Given the success of its source material, along with the jaw-dropping quality of Ricci's performance, the locking-away of this one is puzzling indeed.

This may have more to do with film-business politics than Wurtzel herself, though one of her more notorious statements has played its part. In February 2002, while promoting More, Now, Again via an interview with the Toronto Globe and Mail, she was asked about the events of Sept. 11, 2001, in the context of her residence close to the World Trade Center. Her reply ran: "I had not the slightest emotional reaction. I thought, this is a really strange art project ... it was a most amazing sight in terms of sheer elegance. It fell like water. It just slid, like a turtleneck going over someone's head." She concluded, "I just felt like everyone was overreacting. People were going on about it. That part really annoyed me."

The upshot was a predictable savaging in the New York Post and the first postponement of the film's release by Miramax. "In dealing with any of our films that had a 9/11-related concern, we have chosen to err on the side of sensitivity and allowed more time to pass," said a company spokesman.

Since then, noises have occasionally been made about a possible release -- in spring of this year, for example -- only for the wires to once again go quiet. Among those involved with the film, all this has led to an evident tetchiness. An e-mail to one of the key players, tentatively asking if I might be allowed to see it, brought forth the following reply: "Just leame [sic] alone, ass hole."

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