Prozac Nation is Wurtzel's memoir of her depression, which she traces from the age of 11 to her senior year in college in chapters marking different phases or manifestations of her illness. The book situates her illness squarely within her family dynamics where she found herself the "battlefield on which [her] parents' differences were fought," and describes in excruciating detail her inner life that at any given time was marked with a "free-flowing messy id" to nihilism, numbness, rage, and fear, ultimately leading to a suicide attempt. The last few chapters chronicle her slow "recovery," due to her conflicted relationship with psychopharmacology and an extraordinary psychiatrist.


Content and style are fused in Prozac Nation as the author textually enacts her depression, resulting in a book that wears the reader down with its self pity, despair, and an endless struggle simply to live--an experience much like living with a chronically depressed person, which makes the book work. Wurtzel uses extraordinary language to describe her depression--always running from a huge black wave about to crash over her; feeling like "the walking, waking dead"; having skin like "thin gauze bandages."

The chronology is also effective, with each chapter focusing on a very specific time in her life beginning at age 11, "full of promise," when depression hit her not as a "sudden disaster" but as "accumulated data." With each subsequent chapter, Wurtzel discloses the intensity and enormous variations of depression, along with the differences in treatment styles in this "pre-Prozac" period.

The suicide attempt, which readers keep expecting in each chapter, finally occurs toward the end of the memoir: "I am doing exactly the thing I don't want to do, committing the act I believed I was above: making a wimpy attempt that is bound to fail." With her failure comes euphoria, however, as she discovers she has survived an "attempt on [her] life," which she characterizes as "the purest and most deliberate act of hatred [she] has ever committed."

The final chapters provide intriguing, knotty questions about psychopharmacology as Wurtzel on one hand characterizes Prozac as a national joke, trendy, a silly drug for crybabies, cosmetic pharmacology for the U.S., which is in "one big collective bad mood"; and on the other, as a drug that literally saves lives. Her writing complicates the issues surrounding psychopharmacology and therapy, and her attempt to "write a book that felt as bad as it feels to feel this bad . . . to be true to the experience of depression" hits the mark.


Houghton Mifflin

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