Book cover
Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath
Heather Clark

Another recommendation from my poet-child, Isabel, Red Comet is an intense and deeply engrossing thousand-page biography of Sylvia Plath. Full disclosure: I’ve never seriously read Plath’s poetry. I’ve never even read The Bell Jar. (Both I plan to remedy soon).

Red Comet twines Plath’s poetry with her life story. Given the deeply personal and autobiographical nature of her poetry, this turns out to be a beautiful way to come to understand her better. All along, as we read about her life, we read as well about what she was writing. This is sometimes deeply revealing, and sometimes shockingly incongruent, which speaks both to her honesty and her craft. I only wish everybody left us such a passionate inscrutable delirious treasure map to their psyche. As always happens with biographies, I came away with such an admiration for Plath’s unique brilliance.

And that brings us to the end. Like a lot of people, all I really knew about Plath going in was intensity and tragedy. Of course Clark must address Plath’s ultimate suicide, and she does not flinch. Clark is a stylist, and while the book sticks to the facts, with an open and compassionate approach, it does so almost poetically. This is especially true in the final chapters. As Plath’s mental state deteriorates, the book picks up pace, sentences are shorter, more disjointed, and more intense. As we read about her descent, we feel it in a very effecting way.

I got a phone call very near the end. I took the call. But I was anxious, agitated, and desperate to get off the phone–to finish the work of bringing her tragedy to an end. I felt a genuine dread in the anticipation of the bang. I’m not a fan of platitudes. But more than ever before I felt the significance of the line “suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” Here was a woman of intense brilliance. She had a life full of love and possibility. Her illness proved too massive a weight. It crushed her. And the tragedy of it is almost overwhelming. All I could think, all I could feel in the end was – what a loss. What a loss.