Would you believe it if I said I'd never read Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar until now? I almost don't believe it. Part of the reason I always shied away from The Bell Jar was the idea that reading about a protagonist like Esther Greenwood would hit too close to home. After all, just like Esther, I was an English major in the Honors program at a Northeast liberal arts school, I loved poetry and D.H. Lawrence, and had a similarly charged, challenging experience interning in Manhattan. And like Esther, I often contemplated the conflicts of being a young woman with competing ambitions and desires. There's one beautiful passage in which Plath writes:
"I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn't quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet."
Esther's observations sum up this acutely quarterlife uncertainty better than anything I've read as a 20something. Plath wrote The Bell Jar nearly 50 years ago, but it is as fresh and relevant as a piece of new fiction. Her voice is bravely, unerringly honest and the writing itself is direct and visceral--gorgeous language paired down to its essential parts.
Have you read The Bell Jar? What was your impression of it? If you're a 20something who would like to review the book, shoot me an email at roaring20s at harpercollins dot com and I'll send you a complimentary copy.