book review: Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953 by Elizabeth Winder

The basics: As the title indicates, this biography of Sylvia Plath takes a narrow scope: the summer of 1953, when she was a college intern for Mademoiselle magazine and lived in New York City with other interns from around the country.

My thoughts: 2013 marks the 50th anniversary of Sylvia Plath's death. Despite her fame and talent, I'm ashamed to say I know more about her infamy and death than her life. Still, there's something that has always fascinated me about Plath, so I welcomed this opportunity to dive deeper into her back story. From the earliest pages of Pain, Parties, Work, however, I realized I was as fascinated by Sylvia's time in the summer of 1953 as I was her colleagues. While Plath drew me to this book, the other women kept me turning the pages.

Winder's research for this book is remarkable. The book is laid out much like a magazine. There are frequent text boxes featuring details and quotations. Thankfully, these boxes enhance the narrative rather than distract from it. They allow Winder to demonstrate a depth of detail that could bog down the narrative; instead they provide a deeper glimpse into certain scenes.

Although I was as fascinated by the other women as I was Sylvia, this book is very much about Sylvia. Many of the other women's actions revolves around Sylvia and their recollections of her. The emphasis at this point of Sylvia's life is enchanting: she is very much on the verge of self-discoveries. By glimpsing Sylvia's life at this point, it's haunting to imagine the different paths her life might have taken from the summer of 1953.

The verdict: Pain, Parties, Work is a fascinating glimpse into the life of Sylvia Plath as a young woman, but as much as I enjoyed this part of Sylvia, I was as drawn to the other young women just as much. This book is a window into one summer in the lives of many remarkable women. That one of them was Sylvia Plath is not nearly as impressive as I expected it to be.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 288 pages
Publication date: April 16, 2013
Source: publisher via TLC Book Tours

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953 from the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle version.)

Want more? Check out the entire tour schedule.

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  1. I want to read this one as well. Like you, I only know Plath's dramatic story of depression and her suicide, but I think that this tale would be both enlightening and tell of a less turbulent part of her life. I also like that it focuses on the other women that surrounded her at the time. It seems like it was all-encompassing. I liked your review very much. It was very detailed and gave me a much better understanding of the book.

  2. This sounds like a really interesting book. We read The Silent Woman in one of my college classes. It's about the way Plath is remembered and how her husband and others manipulated that. I would like to read more about her earlier life though!

  3. I can only imagine what a crazy summer that must have been ...

    Thanks for being a part of the tour.

  4. I too was very interested in some of the other women and plan to find out more about them and their lives as well :) Enjoyed your review!


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