I may be the only person in the world to say this, but I somehow wasn’t the right age to read The Bell Jar – THE book about depressed young women navigating their way into adulthood from a charmed childhood – as a college student. I think I needed the distance of adulthood to recognize myself in Esther Greenwood.
I hated this book the first time I read it because I had emerged from a grief-induced depression the year before and none of Esther’s experiences seemed to match my own despair, but I somehow missed the metaphor of the anhedonia being like jarred air, keeping Esther from the fresh air of experience. I also missed the misogyny of the era, the way every path afforded to Esther comes at the expense of another, and usually through a man.
I also let my dislike cloud my judgement of what is truly amazing writing. It’s equal to or better than Holden Caulfield bitching about phonies, when that rat bastard had nothing denied him, but Catcher in the Rye is seen as high art, and despite this being a classic, this is still seen as “for girls.”
But in any case, I graduated into a recession and got some distance from my own depression, which means that I got to revisit this amazing book. And now more than at twenty, like Esther, “I want(ed) change and excitement and to shoot off in all directions myself, like the colored arrows from a Fourth of July rocket.”