I love The Bell Jar.
I found it on Saturday as I was moving boxes from one room to another so that I could make room for an elliptical machine that my sister is giving me which counts for the next five Christmases and Birthdays and that is totally worth it. I was moving the boxes because unlike where we lived before, there are no book shelves here. And that is bad. All the books stay in boxes for now unless I’m moving them which means I’m really opening them and finding The Bell Jar.
I read it for the first time when I had just graduated college and I could not believe, could not believe, the ease of the voice.
Okay, not really. Not going to use jargon for this book.
What I want to say is, when I read The Bell Jar, I was blown away. Somebody understood me*.
Here’s the thing: Sylvia Plath, someone who lived far far away from any of the places I’ve lived, someone who lived a life a thousand times different than mine, someone who didn’t know anything about me, in fact, someone who died fifteen years before I was born, someone like her had managed to write a character who I connected with on many many levels. It was sort of unbelievable.
Here’s a passage:
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 EeGee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Atilla 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 on the ground at my feet. (77)
I remember reading this. I remember sitting on my bed, books and clothes and candy bar wrappers, and alone on a Friday night, and reading this. It was exactly how I was feeling. What was I doing with my life? What could I do with my life? What had I let rot at my feet? Why couldn’t I make a decision?
How did she know?
I keep typing in passages and then erasing them. Like when her mom tells her she didn’t get into the writing course she had applied to and she suddenly has nothing to look forward to. Or when she is in her room and hears someone outside so she crawls on the floor and shuts the blinds, just in case. Or when she decides to write a novel just to show everyone. So she eats some raw hamburger and egg and sets up a card table and counts out three hundred and fifty sheets of paper and sits there and thinks and writes a paragraph and is proud that she described drops of sweat like insects even though she thought maybe she’d read it somewhere and then it’s been hours and she only has two paragraphs written and her mom comes in and asks her why she isn’t dressed, it’s three in the afternoon, and she says,”I’m writing a novel . . . I haven’t got time to change out of this and into that.” I keep writing them and then erasing them because I don’t know what this post is about.
I think what I’m trying to say is I love books. I love books that make me feel normal even if normal is the Bell Jar. I want to write books that make someone far far away think, How did she know? And I won’t know. But she’ll know. That’s what I want to write.
*Don’t be scared.