“I felt very still and empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel, moving dully along in the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo.” ― Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
Have you ever read, and been affected by, a book that you never forgot about, but upon a second reading many years later you ended up wondering what made such an impression the first time? That’s where I find myself at the moment with The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath.
I first read The Bell Jar sometime in the late 1970s. While I couldn’t have told you after a year or two exactly how the story went, I never forgot about the book and the impression it made on me upon that first reading. As the years passed, and I struggled with my depression, the book would come to mind occasionally but I never bothered to buy it or check it out from the library to re-read. But there has been many a time over the years that, had I read the above quote, I would have nodded my head and thought I know exactly what she means. And I do still relate to that at times, especially at family gatherings.
In recent months, I kept thinking about The Bell Jar and finally decided to check it out from the library at the same time as a couple of others and just a few days ago finally picked it up. The timing of reading The Bell Jar turned out, for reasons I’ll state in another post, to be a bit discomfiting, but once started I was determined to finish.
Maybe I was hoping this reading would give me some insight into myself or mental illness in general. Instead, I’m not even sure why it is still lauded as a wonderful view of a woman’s descent into madness. It does provide a sad and frightening look into the way the mentally ill were often treated, both physically and verbally, in the first half of the 20th century.
I’m the kind of reader who gets irritated when a writer uses the wrong word, such as her reference in one part to a “parcel of kids” when she should have used the word passel. But beyond that, I found the flow of the writing rather disjointed and sometimes hard to follow. Part of it was the time-hops, but there were abrupt scene jumps from something like an evening at the asylum to walking down the path at college with no transition. There were other parts that left questions in the mind that could have been easily clarified with another sentence or paragraph added.
As we all do to some degree, I have obviously changed since I first read The Bell Jar, but I never thought such changes would affect the way I perceived something I had read before. Our perception of people and events around us are affected by our personal experiences and knowledge, a fact that was brought home to me with this second reading.
Claire was high from the joints she’d smoked behind the gym at the prom, but her three best friends had challenged her to walk through every room on the presumptive 13th floor of the old “haunted” hotel without screaming. Easy peasy, even if they will do everything they can to scare me.
She was about to leave the last room when she saw movement from the corner of her eye. When she turned around, all she saw was an ornate mirror reflecting the moonlight from a nearby window. Before she could turn and leave the room, she felt a pair of large hands gently caress her arms. An intoxicating musky scent reached her nostrils. Then a voice whispered in her ear, “I’ve been waiting for you. Come with me and see the world, my love.”
I’ve been waiting to hear those words my entire life, Claire thought. Dazedly, she reached for his outstretched hand.
* * *
“But she wasn’t depressed! She wouldn’t have committed suicide!” Claire’s friends wailed as they watched the ME’s van drive away.
Nobody noticed the ghostly figures of Claire and her lover watching from the window on the 13th floor.
An interesting piece of email showed up in my inbox yesterday. I thought I would share it for those who might not have received it. I really like the idea of this domain.
We don’t always get along, but we’ve got that same patriotic blood running through our veins, and we love our home sweet home.
Right now, the family is in chaos. Everyone’s fighting, no one wants to mow the lawn, and the garbage hasn’t been taking out in months.
It’s pretty clear what this family needs to make everything all better again…
America needs a loving Grandpa.
We need to be spoiled, we need to feel like someone’s listening to us, we need someone to run to when our parents are being jerks.
America needs Bernie Sanders.
Sure, he’s a little rough around the edges, he shouts a lot, and he really seems fixated on a few stories that he likes to tell over and over, but he’s our Grampy so we love him.
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The two boys watched from the ridge as the cops and the medical examiner worked over the body.
“Do you think they’ll believe it was just an accident?”
“If you don’t want to spend the next six years in juvie, you better hope they do.”
“I didn’t want him to die, just teach him a lesson.”
“That can’t be changed now. He’s dead and won’t be beating up anyone ever again.” Just as I planned.
* * *
“Was it an accident, Doc?”
“It looks like it. This lot has always been a dumping ground. It’s a miracle no kids have died before this with all this trash around.”
“I can’t help feeling something is off about the way he landed on that glass.”
“You’re over-thinking things again. And you’d have a devil of a time finding any evidence otherwise in all this trash.”
“Yeah,” the cop sighed. “Go ahead and load him up, boys.”
* * *
The boys watched as the ambulance drove away, then turned and went separate ways. One went home, ate supper and never thought about the incident again; the other went home, said he wasn’t hungry, then went to his room and waited for the cops to show up.
I wrote this story for Sunday Photo Fiction. The idea of Sunday Photo Fiction is to create a story / poem or something using about 200 words with the photo as a guide. If you want to read more entries for this week, click on the blue frog below.