cover image Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath

Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath

Heather Clark. Knopf, $40 (1152p) ISBN 978-0-307-96116-7

Clark (The Grief of Influence: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes) offers a page-turning, meticulously researched biography of Sylvia Plath. Informed by never-before-accessed documents, Clark builds a narrative that gathers full force starting with Plath’s ill-fated Mademoiselle internship at age 20, and continues through her career as an acclaimed poet, her marriage to fellow poet Ted Hughes, and her suicide at age 30. Clarke highlights bestselling author Olive Higgins Prouty as a generous source of emotional and financial support throughout Plath’s life, while casting doubts on the helpfulness of Ruth Barnhouse, Plath’s close friend and her psychiatrist during the 1953 stay in a psychiatric ward that inspired her novel The Bell Jar. However, Clark places the greatest emphasis on the Hughes-Plath marriage, depicting it as a creatively charged and ultimately destructive partnership, in which Hughes’s moments of gentleness and supportiveness existed alongside rage and abuse. Finally, Clark provides a new and convincing theory that Plath’s suicide came about not impulsively, but in response to the possibility that she would again have to undergo the traumatic process of institutionalization. Clark’s in-depth scholarship and fine writing result in a superb work that will deliver fresh revelations to Plath’s many devoted fans. (Oct.)