I’ve gone back and forth on how I feel about Cat Marnell. On the one hand, I think she’s smart, funny, and talented, and I enjoy a lot of her stuff in the same way I enjoy reading depressing books by Bret Easton Ellis that make me glad I’m not insanely wealthy. (Maybe more, because I probably have more in common with Cat.) On the other hand, there are aspects of her worldview that I find incredibly fucked up (or, if I’m being nice: strongly disagree with), especially for someone who seems immune to many types of bullshit. On the other hand, I think it’s valuable (and somewhat rare) to have a painfully articulate account of what it’s like to be a young female drug addict that’s totally unbiased by hindsight. And on yet another hand, I feel sad for her in a way that’s almost definitely unwelcome and condescending, as I question how much agency she actually has in the matter of her continued drug abuse. She didn’t even choose to become an addict in the first place; her dad started feeding her prescription stimulants when she was a kid.
I’d also like to recant certain portions of my condemnation of her article about using emergency contraception as regular contraception, because while yes, that is a very dumb thing to do, especially if you should know better, and while it was a terrible idea for Jane Pratt to ever hire her as a “health” anything, women deserve reproductive rights no matter how responsible or irresponsible we are with them. (I also think lazy people deserve healthcare!)
Wow, that’s a lot of hands. Anyway, in recognition of Cat’s flashes of literary greatness, Gore Vidal‘s flashes of bitchiness and narcissism, or both, someone has created a tumblr called “Cat Marnell or Gore Vidal?” in which readers are invited to decide which great American person of letters various quotes are taken from. Most of them are not that hard, but a few of them actually tripped me up, like this one:
“Every time a friend succeeds, I die a little.” (ANSWER)
And this one:
“If there is a narcissist in your life, you need to be afraid for yourself and your future.” (ANSWER)
And this one:
“I’m exactly as I appear. There is no warm, loveable person inside. Beneath my cold exterior, once you break the ice, you find cold water.” (ANSWER)
The fact that it’s possible to get any of these wrong at all should give us at least a few seconds of pause regarding how we think about male and female writers. The fact is, a lot of great writers have been narcissistic people with problematic world views…even more so than Cat’s! (The “S” in T.S. Eliot stood for “anti-Semitism.”) But we tend to be much more accepting of this in men than in women. Just because Cat’s limitations (IMO) manifest in sentiments like “being skinny and having expensive shit are as important as producing great work” (I’m paraphrasing, correct me if you think I’m wrong) and not something more “masculine” (but also crappy) like “I have a noblesse oblige to save the world from savages” doesn’t mean she’s a worse person than Oscar Wilde or Christopher Hitchens. And I’m not saying Cat is Oscar Wilde, but it doesn’t necessarily make her a worse writer, either. It’s entirely possible to value a writer’s work for what it adds to the world, while at the same time disagreeing with them on some rather important things. And like I said, people give men much more leeway in this area.
Or maybe I’m just a huge idiot for confusing Cat Marnell quotes with Gore Vidal ones! Who knows? Why don’t you try it and see for yourself?
Photo: Jacinto Ruales