There are specific talismans for girls who grew up in our generation believing they were broken: the song Paper Bag by Fiona Apple, notebooks filled with magazine clippings, the movie Girl Interrupted, a special Livejournal or Xanga account we never gave our friend’s the username for so it could just be for us. Cat Marnell’s How to Murder Your Life is a new one, either anachronistically made for us, or fashioned for the daughters we haven’t had yet, but already feel sad for.
Here we watch Cat dabble with and then dive face first into drugs while going to private school and fancy parties and wearing clothes we grew up dreaming about. She gets jobs we grew up dreaming about, too. She says insane things like “My tan looked fantastic! I was ready for rehab.”
It’s all very exciting and glamorous in the way only a certain type of person can envision a crippling series of addictions to be glamorous. (If you’re in that category, you should prepare to spend some sleepless nights after reading wondering why your addictions are ugly instead of glamorous, since they’re all going to gut us just the same — by the way).
It’s an addiction memoir for realists who’ve always wanted to get better but have also known there’s no magic pill — for girls who suspected those that talk about how their lives have changed because of yoga or green juice or jesus to be completely full of shit. There are almost 400 pages of deep, dark struggle (which also are funny and engaging as hell) — but there’s no ending, which is the only honest way to finish an addiction memoir.
Cat isn’t healed at the end. She’s spend some time (in Thai rehab!) focusing on herself and getting better — and she is better. But she’s just better, she’s not healed.
In all her dirtiness, Cat is smarter than most people who write about their dirty pasts. She’s not a grifter here to tell you that if you can manage to replace your addiction to angel dust with an addiction to a prescribed set of spiritual beliefs you can live happily ever after. Our own patron saint, Sylvia Plath, reminds us that those kind of changes only happen if you’re willing to spend your whole life fervently keeping up (and not questioning) the belief it requires. (From The Bell Jar: The only problem was, Church, even the Catholic Church, didn’t take up the whole of your life No matter how much you knelt and prayed, you still had to eat three meals a day and have a job and live in the world.)
There is no before and after. No magic pill. No transformation story except to say every day, you have to try just as hard.
How to Murder Your Life is out Tuesday.