Author: Elizabeth Winder
Narrator: Xe Sands
Published: 2013 Pages: 288
Audio Duration: 5 hrs; 29 min
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?