cover image Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953

Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953

Elizabeth Winder. Harper, $25.99 (288p) ISBN 978-0-06-208549-8

Marking the 50th anniversary of Plath’s death, poet Winder, in her nonfiction debut, sets out to reveal a lesser-known side of the iconic poet/novelist, paradoxically by chronicling one of the best-known periods in her life. The summer Plath spent as an intern at Mademoiselle magazine’s Manhattan offices, which inspired The Bell Jar, provides the heady context for Winder’s case that Plath was more than the “tortured artist” who committed suicide at age 30. Instead, Winder presents a woman who was an active participant in her midcentury cultural moment and pre–Feminine Mystique peer group. Extensive quotations from Plath’s fellow Mademoiselle “guest editors” reveal a fiercely ambitious young writer and a high-pressure workplace. We also visit the Barbizon Hotel, Grace Kelly’s one-time residence and the interns’ home for the summer—a “debutante’s pretty flophouse.” The former interns’ words are complemented by a lovingly detailed inventory, as Technicolor-vivid as a Douglas Sirk film, of the fashions and foods that filled Plath’s summer. Winder convincingly shows that Plath should be recognized as much for her enjoyment of life and her enduring works as for her tragic death. Readers already familiar with the starkly unromantic facts of Plath’s biography may be thrown by the glamorous, nostalgic picture of the author given here. Agent: David Kuhn, Kuhn Projects. (Apr.)