To Be Young, Gifted And Blue

Elizabeth Wurtzel's depression is of such mammoth proportions, she might as well be famous for it. Or at least that's what she seems to think. "I'm starting to wonder if I might not be one of those people like Anne Sexton or Sylvia Plath," she writes in the prologue to Prozac Nation (317 pages. Houghton Mifflin. $19.95). "I might as well be Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra," she says on the following page. And later: "I felt like Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's," or perhaps, "like Mary Tyler Moore, throwing her hat, as if it were caution, to the winds of Minneapolis." Wurtzel's depression is, apparently, of the megalomaniacal sort. At various other points in the book she compares herself to Virginia Woolf, Natalie Wood, Axl Rose, Miss Havisham, Brian Jones, Gregor Samsa and the title character in the film "Betty Blue."

"Prozac Nation" is being hyped as a tract on youthful angst in the '90s, but it reads more like the self-absorbed rantings of an adolescent. Wurtzel, 27, a former pop critic for New York Magazine and The New Yorker, recounts her bizarre downward spiral from being an infant in Pampers commercials to an 11-year-old unhappy camper obsessed with the Velvet Underground, to her days at Harvard bouncing in and out of the psychiatric infirmary, through obsessive relationships, family battles and finally to her status as one of the first Prozac patients. Her story can be poignant -- she describes scenes of self-mutilation in the junior-high-school locker room, of waking up in college to find she's miscarried a baby she didn't know she conceived -- yet her narrative is so rife with hyperbole, so devoid of context, that it's virtually impossible to identify with her. "Harvard was full of nut cases," she says. "Still, no one's desperation came close to matching mine."

Wurtzel's nation is a nation of one. She makes only tenuous attempts to draw parallels between herself and her generation, and she randomly blames her parents, her therapists, her friends, the divorce rate, drugs and the times for her problems. Depression among youth is a topic begging for insightful treatment, but those looking for answers would probably learn more from a song like Nirvana's "All Apologies" than from Wurtzel's entire book. The character she most often calls to mind is Winona Ryder in "Beetlejuice," minus the dark humor. She is alone -- no, scratch that, she is utterly alone.