Christine Strelan - Between the Covers

Prozac Nation

Elizabeth Wurtzel

Quartet 1994/2005

Prozac Nation sold so well, they were still reprinting it last year. Depression and medication are clearly subjects that interest many, and judging by the statistics quoted here, they are reaching plague proportions all over the world, especially in the USA. How is it possible that so many are so miserable?

In her afterword, Wurtzel comments on the disturbing manner in which mood-altering drugs are being prescribed for children as young as eight, and are now ubiquitous in Americas high schools. ...one of the hardest things for parents to discern is the difference between depression and ordinary adolescence after all, they have such similar symptoms. It is in the nature of teenagers to be difficult, and time may be a better solution than chemicals.

The bulk of the book, however, is an autobiographical account of Wurtzels life, up until her first prescription for Prozac, in her late 20s. The New York Times described her as Sylvia Plath with the ego of Madonna, and ego is certainly the key word here. The personality that emerges from these pages is a monster of self-obsession: infantile, selfish, and full of the kind of me-me-me confessionals that characterise American talk-shows. Everyone wants to be a victim, and Wurtzel is still blaming mom and pop at the end of the book. Surely all her character defects arent caused by depression; most people who suffer from it are perfectly decent individuals, struggling to cope with a frequently misunderstood affliction. At times, it seems as if Wurtzel uses her condition as an excuse for years of disgraceful behaviour.

Sadly, her writing is not nearly as good as Sylvia Plaths, but the one redeeming feature is the occasional use of humour: It seemed that everybody in school was on the cheerleading squad except me. I alone was stuck somewhere in Stevie Nicks-land, showing up every day in these long diaphanous things that nearly reached my ankles. The teenage Wurtzel is the most bearable; I can certainly empathise with a girl who prefers Lou Reed to disco.

Though its an ordeal spending 300 pages in Wurtzels company, Prozac Nation raises important issues, and would interest anyone wanting to understand clinical depression and the treatments prescribed for it.

Books reviewed are available at the Book Warehouse in Keen Street, Lismore, and at Lismore Shopping Square.


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