You're a Life Murderer. You Murder People's Lives
...Sincerest apologies to those confused by my title, but if you haven't seen Mean Girls, you're definitely not going to care about this book, so I suggest you move along to my more serious reviews (Kazuo Ishiguro and Joan Didion, perhaps).
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As an avid follower of social media accounts like popculturediedin2009, and someone who used to go to her friend’s house twice weekly just to read Paris Hilton’s oeuvre Confessions of an Heiress (I swear I have intellectual interests too, but now is neither the time nor the place to discuss them), I am shocked I did not know who Cat Marnell was until a few weeks back. I'm convinced that the main reason I love skiing so much is that I used to associate ski trips with purchasing Lucky Magazine in the airport and spending all of my après-ski hours deliberating between what earned a “Yes” tab and what was doomed to the “Maybe” section. During my 2003-2007 consumption of all things pop-culture, I somehow missed Marnell’s moment. Fear not, though, because I’m all caught up, just in time for the release of her epic memoir, How to Murder Your Life.
If I had read this memoir at age, say, thirteen, during the height of my celebrity obsession, I think I would’ve written to the Vatican and asked them to canonize Marnell (hey, I watched Angels & Demons this weekend, and if they Langdon advise them, why not me?). Reading it at age twenty-three was a different experience, but an enjoyable one nonetheless.
On the surface, Marnell’s memoir is a veritable designer dictionary, a name-dropping Bible, and a juicy inside look into the Magazine Publishing industry (at least, on the edit side. My life is not nearly as interesting). At its core, though, it is a dark exploration into Marnell’s drug addiction and how it has affected her life, relationships, and career. Marnell takes us from her early days publishing “zines” from her home in Bethesda, Maryland, all the way to New England, where the druggie narrative begins. Like many boarding school kids, Marnell gets her hands on an Adderall prescription. What starts as a purely academic enhancer becomes a party drug, one that Marnell develops an addiction to that she has yet to shed. Her Adderall-fueled boarding school days eventually lead into her departure from New England for the promised land of New York City, where she begins her illustrious career in the magazine industry.
Unfortunately, the glitz and glamour of her lifestyle begins to fade as her addictions take hold. While the first half of the book reads like a particularly juicy issue of Us Weekly, the second half shows a darker side. Marnell is a serious addict, and, as a result, she often gets herself into situations that would make even the most hardened reader squirm (not in a "gross" way, but in a secondhand embarrassment sense). Marnell gets herself involved with a dangerous crowd, and finds it nearly impossible to break free without serious repercussions (we're talking break-ins and robberies, not simple slaps on the wrist).
As many who have reviewed the book before me have made note, Marnell's memoir is atypical for one reason: yes, she spends the entire book, in her words, "murdering" her life, but, unlike the addicts before her who have embraced meditation or clean-eating or AA/NA and come out relatively unscathed, Marnell is still an addict. She did attend a transformative rehab center in Thailand, but, back in New York City, she's had trouble resisting the allure of the various drugs at her disposal. While the book is undoubtedly an irresistible read, you can't help but feel a bit worried and unsettled about Marnell's future as you flip past the final page.