Pain, Parties, Work – Elizabeth Winder

Posted 3 July, 2013 by Trish in Reading Nook, Review / 30 Comments

Tags: , , ,

Title: Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953
Author: Elizabeth Winder
Narrator: Xe Sands
Published: 2013 Pages: 288
Audio Duration: 5 hrs; 29 min
Genre: Non-Fiction/Biography
Rating: 4/5

In Short: In the summer of 1953 Sylvia Plath was awarded a position as guest editor at Mademoiselle magazine. Pain, Parties,Work details the month Plath spent in New York which later influenced her novel The Bell Jar.

Why I Listened: I accepted a copy to review from HarperAudio as I was intrigued to learn a little bit more about Plath’s earlier years.

Thoughts in General: Did you know that Sylvia Plath only lived to be 30 years old? As I approach my 32nd birthday this fact seems all the more real to me. I’ve studied Plath’s poetry in the past and saw the biopic with Gwenyth Paltrow but Pain, Parties, Work shows a different side to Plath than I had ever seen before. Plath loved fashion and food and socializing–somehow this seems incongruous with the vision of Plath I have in my head but it was refreshing to see her in a different light as a vibrant and fun-loving twenty year old. PPW certainly shows the darker sides to Plath’s psyche as well, especially as her month in New York began to wear on her and a few months later she attempted suicide.

I don’t want to discuss too much of the content of Pain, Parties, Work because it was fascinating getting to know a different version of Plath through the reading, but I will outline some of the structural elements of the book. Winder has researched and gathered information on Plath’s life, particularly her month in New York from journal entries, letters, and other accounts and interviews. The book is set up chronologically but the reader also visits Plath’s youth and even periods of time immediately following her time in New York. The chapters are short and are really just snippets of any given time period or topic. This was a bit confusing on audio, especially as there are sections of text set-off in boxes on the page. While the brevity of the sections made it easy to digest and read, I was also often left wanting more depth and detail.

Bottom Line: Pain, Parties, Work is a fascinating snapshot of a time in Sylvia Plath’s short life that is not often shown. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of Plath’s writing or would like to take a different (and often fascinating) view of Plath’s youth. The book is short and easy to digest–I talk about the audio below but I’ll note here that I definitely recommend the audio.

A Note on the Audio: Pain, Parties, and Work was my first Xe Sands narration and I absolutely adored her performance. At the risk of sounding cheesy, the best way to describe Sands’ narration is that it was sparkling–so much glamour and gilt is described in the book and Sands’ lilt perfectly captures the atmosphere. However, in the more serious moments of the book Sands’ voice was again able to accommodate the shifting mood offering a more sympathetic tone. I talked about the format of the book a little above and it did make for curious listening as I had to guess at the shifts, but I highly recommend the audiobook. Just see if you can get your hands on a paper copy for the few pictures that are scattered throughout the book.

Next up is actually reading The Bell Jar! I’ve only read Plath’s poetry. Have you read The Bell Jar or know much about Plath’s tragically short life?

30 Responses to “Pain, Parties, Work – Elizabeth Winder”

  1. I just listened to this too and will be posting about it on Friday. I loved learning about Plath and enjoyed the peek into life in the early 50s as well. I want to read The Bell Jar now too!

  2. I have *got* to read this. I was so sad to learn my library doesn’t have the audio version. :( I need to find myself a copy!! It’ll be perfect to listen to right before I revisit The Bell Jar for my third or fourth time!

  3. I’m so glad everyone is enjoying this! This novelized version of her summer in 1953 is such an accessible way to learn more about Plath before continuing on with her actual poetry/fiction. The Bell Jar was one of my favorites in college, although it didn’t hold up quite so well on a subsequent reread. I am excited to revisit now, though, with a fresh new perspective.

  4. I’m planning to read The Bell Jar soon (I know I’ve been saying that for months!) and Pain, Parties, Work is already on my wish list. Hadn’t considered audio before reading your review, but you’ve convinced me that’s the way to go. It would be great to read/listen to the two books back to back.

  5. I’m a bit of a Plath fanatic and have read all her published work. I have this book, but haven’t started it. As you become more familiar with her life and work, check out Janet Malcolm’s The Silent Woman, which is a book about people trying to write biographies of Plath–it’s quite a story.

  6. The Bell Jar is a very good book. While I know about Plath’s history in a general sense, I really need to read some biographical books about her. I’ve added this one to my list.

  7. Ti

    I missed out on the ARC for this one because I waited too long to respond but I will want to read it. From reading The Bell Jar, I had this wacky image in my head of her and it’s hard to see her in a different way.

  8. I know so little about Plath and her writing. I’ve read a handful of her poems. I do want to read The Bell Jar someday. I am glad you enjoyed this book! Xe Sands is such a great narrator!

  9. Plath is certainly a fascinating figure, though I can only claim to have read some of her poems back in college. I know a bit about her through friends’ obsessions with her work, and Pain, Parties, Work sounds fascinating (plus, I love the cover and title!).

  10. Nice post! Read the Bell Jar ages ago and due for a reread. This book sounds fascinating. I’d love to know more about Plath. I did like the movie and wondered why it wasn’t more well-received. Thx for bringing this to my attention.

  11. I read the Bell Jar a very long time ago, so this sounds like an interesting view of an interesting person. Thanks.

  12. I know about her death but little of her life. Though I know enough to be surprised by fashion and socialising, too. I think I’d need to read more about her first, but then I’d definitely consider this book.

  13. I read The Bell Jar in high school… ugh, so long ago! I liked it, but it’s been so long I don’t remember why. I went through a Plath phase back then. :)

  14. I now teach some of Plath’s poetry and I find that a lot of students are fascinated by the poet. I’m excited to recommend this book to some of them. First, I need to dig into it. But for the most part, I’ve heard some really strong reviews. As a fan of Plath’s poetry, I’m excited to learn more about the woman behind the words.

  15. I’ve read the Bell Jar and some of her poetry. I knew she had a short life, but no clue she was something of a socialite. In fact, from thinking Bell Jar was autobiogrpahical, I had assumed the opposite!

    • Jeane – I wouldn’t call her a socialite but Winder does go into great detail about how much Sylvia loved fashion and how she enjoyed the dinner parties. The book only covers a month of time, which is a very short snapshot, but apparently this was the basis for The Bell Jar (which I haven’t read so can’t make comparisons). I’m really interested in reading The Bell Jar with this background in mind!

  16. What a gorgeous book cover. This book does sound very interesting. I read The Bell Jar quite a while – so good.

  17. I really really want to listen to the audio now (and I’ll probably look up other books Xe Sands has narrated!). I checked, but my library only has the print version – keeping my fingers crossed they’ll be getting the audio soon. Great review, Trish!

  18. The Bell Jar is great although it’s been a while since I read it – perhaps it’s time for a re-read? I will second Amy above and say that The Silent Woman is a really interesting look at how Plath is remembered.
    I will add this to my list. :)

  19. This really does present an entirely different side of Plath. I’m going to have to keep an eye out for it.

  20. I really enjoyed this book. After all the years of hearing about her sticking her head in the oven, it was nice to read about a pleasant time of her life, even if it did end up stressing her to the point of suicide. Still haven’t found my copy of The Bell Jar, since reading it, but it definitely piqued my interest. I’m glad you enjoyed it, too!

  21. I just got this book from the library, and will be reading it as soon as I’m done Mad Girl’s Love Song by Andrew Wilson. I knew she had died young, but not that it was just after she turned 30. I was a big reader of hers when I was younger, and yes have read The Bell Jar. I was thinking of rereading it again, it was many years ago when I did read it the first time.

    I enjoyed your review of Pain, Parties, Work and am really glad I have it alrady to read. Mad Girl’s Love Song is fascinating. I am learning all kinds of things about her youth that I didn’t know. She was brilliant, and driven, from an early age. I think her suicide made me think that if someone were going to be a good poet, they had to die young. That sort of echo that hangs over all the greats who died too young.

    I’m curious to see what you think of The Bell Jar if/when you get to it.