You have to hand it to good girls: When they go bad, they work hard at it. They don’t just try drugs, they take every drug, and they don’t just get depressed, they get themselves committed and compare themselves to Sylvia Plath when they get electroconvulsive shock therapy.
The first-person narrator is a smart, sullen and difficult young woman. Her mother died when she was young, and her father, a dashing actor, disappointed her in the standard ways (never having enough time for her, never really understanding her, never loving her enough). After graduating from an exclusive New England college, where no one really understood her either, the narrator moves to the West Coast where she works as a personal assistant to an anxious B-list actress. She marries an up-and-coming rock star and gets a job as a stripper (a profession once shared by the author). She drinks, takes drugs, is committed to a mental hospital, gets an abortion, undergoes shock therapy and escapes to begin the cycle again in Seattle. If this seems like a lot of activity for such a young woman, and for such a slender volume, it is, but the frenetic pace of the sstory is offset by what is at times almost hypnotically spare prose. Shorn of the melodramatic adjectives and fascinated self-analysis of the usual tortured-young-woman novel, Wood’s language is often bracingly frank. The sometimes reportorial-style storytelling seems mannered, as if the author is straining to unite a dazzling individuality with a self-conscious crudeness. The stylized smartness of the narrator can seem intrusive and a bit pretentious, as when she compares her time in a mental institution to being sent to Dachau. These kinds of glib comparisons undercut the text, giving it the air of a writing-workshop exercise.
The tale is threaded with admirably sharp prose and has a controlled, deliberately jagged pace, but the deliberateness of its own edginess sometimes gets the better of it.