Elizabeth Wurtzel: ‘What I can’t believe is that people get married before they’re 47’
Her bestselling memoir Prozac Nation became an instant Nineties classic – now Elizabeth Wurtzel tells Celia Walden how she has found peace with a younger husband and is even planning to start a family
A BRIEF pause, as Elizabeth Wurtzel tries to think up any remaining vices. “I put too much butter on my toast,” she says, eventually. “That’s probably my worst vice now.”
This from the one-time enfant terrible of modern American literature: a woman who made a career out of her addictions and dysfunctions, after her best-selling memoir, Prozac Nation, launched her into international celebrity at the age of 26.
Twenty-three years on, the 47-year-old New York-born writer and journalist is clean (she has been since 1998), serene, and newly married.
Indeed, she bears so little resemblance to the “delicate”, “disconnected”, “dazed” and “rambling” individual interviewers who desperately tried to prise straight answers from in the past, that I spend the first half hour of our conversation wondering why on earth she has been so badly misrepresented.
“The truth is that something about me changed in 2012,” she explains. “The things that happened to me that year were so overwhelming that it made me realise that maybe my life was too crazy. So I moved to a new apartment – a place where I have finally achieved some calm – and I made peace with myself.”
‘Too crazy’ in Wurtzel world is an incalculable concept. After all, this is the woman whose clinical depression led to self-mutilation and a suicide attempt.
A woman who, after the success of Prozac Nation propelled her to international fame and notoriety, “went home with a different man every night”, did drugs and was, in her own words, “out of control”.
The writing of her novel, Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women, both nearly killed the author – and saved her.
Taking up to 40 times her prescribed daily dosage of Ritalin, she would write for 72 hours on the trot.
Once the manuscript had been handed in, Wurtzel checked herself into rehab for four months, came out and took cocaine the very same day, “just to see if I still could”.
Six months later, “I cleaned myself up and I was done”.
In the film version of Wurtzel’s life, the author’s happily-ever-after would have started there – but real life is neither so pleasingly linear nor so neat.
For the following decade she ricocheted from one bad relationship to another, before being forced in 2012 to move out of her Greenwich Village apartment after a stalker turned up at her door and announced: “I’m going to slash up your face and ruin your life.”
When she met her husband-to-be, writer James Freed Jr, in October the following year, she realised that “it wasn’t just about meeting the right person but deciding that you are ready to meet the right person”.
The pair were married in May, before 85 guests, on a friend’s New York rooftop – with the bride wearing a $200 white Krizia dress she found in a second-hand boutique.
“Here I am at 47, just married for the first time.”
It’s funny, I tell her, to hear the one-time emblem of disaffected youth sounding quite so, well, optimistic.
“Of course marriage is optimistic,” she shrugs, “because it’s the beginning of something. Maybe getting married for the first time at 47 is my real mistake – maybe I should be on my third or fourth marriage.
“But really what I can’t believe is that people get married before they’re 47.
“My husband is 35 and I can’t understand why he’s giving up on being single at such a young age. Single people have more fun, after all. They’re out all the time.”
From her writings on the subject, Wurtzel’s single life sounds anything but fun. Describing herself as “the worst girlfriend ever”, she tells me about some of the “crazy things” she used to do. “If I didn’t hear from a man for one night, for example, I would decide that he was against me. Then I would call him 24 times a day and ask him why he was against me.”
In between being stalked, starting a new life and getting married, Wurtzel was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer – “which, like many things that happen to women is mostly a pain in the ass”, she has surmised.
The double mastectomy she underwent in February and ongoing chemotherapy hasn’t changed her, she insists.
“I hope it doesn’t – because then it means that breast cancer has won. After everything I have been through, breast cancer is nothing.
“Not compared to giving up drugs - that was the hardest thing. It was so difficult that when I got through a whole day without doing drugs, I believed in miracles; I believed in God.”
Although she will admit that chemotherapy “takes the wind out of you”, postponing the wedding was never an option.
“I still have surgery and radiation coming up, who knows? You might end up postponing it for ever.”
Following on from her 2003 memoir, More, Now, Again, she’s busy planning her next autobiographical tome – tentatively entitled And Now This – and even thinking of starting a family.
“I might still have kids. It’s definitely a part of life that you don’t want to miss out on. I should have frozen my eggs before chemotherapy, but I was too overwhelmed.
“I will have to hope that science has miraculous solutions for me. If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen.