This New York party girl might be old news to some, but Cat Marnell just recently came onto my radar when I heard about her Simon & Schuster book deal. I’m sure I heard her name floating around in the media before, but it didn’t mean anything to me. Once my interest was piqued (fact: writers are intrigued by and sometimes infatuated with other writers) I began to dig a little deeper. I discovered she used to be an editor for one of my favourite sites, xojane, and wrote a brief and mildly disturbing column for another fave, Vice. It was through reading Amphetamine Logic that I began to understand why she is kind of famous.
People love Cat because she writes candidly about her depressingly hedonistic lifestyle. She’s been abusing drugs since she was a teen, recreational and prescription. Coming from a wealthy family and living in New York, she has easy access to all kinds of substances and the kind of party scene reserved for the (mostly) rich and famous. On top of that she’s scored some positions and opportunities that other writers would kill for (the above mentioned magazines, Lucky, Nylon and Glamour to name a few). This has allowed her to publicize a life that some dread, others desire and most are curious about (otherwise why would she be getting so much attention?). But the shocking content alone is enough to build a career like that. She fumbles words onto the page that fluctuate between barely lucid and consumably tacky, to vivid and poetic, to minimal and sharp in their clarity. When reading her work on Vice it’s hard to tell if this is her hallucinatory dream or her recurring nightmare. If it’s not good writing, it is enjoyable and oddly addictive.
I have a love/hate relationship with both fiction and nonfiction (literature, films, etc.) focused on substance abuse. Of course it’s entertaining in an eerie sort of way (we shouldn’t be so drawn to others’ miseries yet we can’t look away) but sometimes it hits to close to home. I am vehemently against chemical drugs (coke, ecstasy, acid etc.) because of the role they played in destroying my mother’s life. Not unlike Marnell, my mom was the life of the party. This went on from her early teens onward, until the abuse caught up with her. She’s still alive in a sense. It really depends on your definition of living. You might think this would make it difficult for me to read Cat’s articles, or that I would become disinterested. But it’s exactly the opposite.
The reason people (myself included) have this morbid fascination with Cat is more than just the ease of being a voyeur from a safe distance. She presents addiction in an insightful way that makes the reader feel like they get a taste of the experience, and begin to understand it. While addiction is something that has been highly publicized, it’s not easily comprehended. People see images of celebrities having too much fun everywhere, but that doesn’t actually offer any sort of detailed look at addiction. For some this is like a horror film; face something terrifying and unknown, have a good laugh and move on with your life. People are endlessly wondering about the ‘other side,’ the glamorous life. These days glamour doesn’t mean Audrey Hepburn, it means Charlie Sheen and Amanda Bynes. Cat’s hedonism and honesty about it fulfills dark desires to see the kind of glamour that comes with excess. It’s a little peak into a life most will never lead. For others who have been personally affected by addiction this is an opportunity to see the ‘logic’ that stole away our loved ones.
I’ll never really know my mother. It’s not possible for me to connect with the friends I’ve cut out of my life because of their substance abuse. I don’t want to use a word as strong as cathartic, but Cat’s articles give me something to grasp. An unexpectedly coherent way to look at the people I’ve lost and say, “okay. I get it, even if I don’t get it.” I’m sure some people might view this as just excusing her very public descent, which could have a negative influence on some her readers. But it’s not as simple as saying I am a fan or a supporter. I’m just another person with unanswerable questions seeking closure in the safest ways I can find it.