Anne Sexton began writing poetry at the age of twenty-nine to keep from killing herself. She held on to language for dear life and somehow -- in spite of alcoholism and the mental illness that ultimately led her to suicide -- managed to create a body of work that won a Pulitzer Prize and that still sings to thousands of readers. This exemplary biography, which was nominated for the National Book Award, provoked controversy for its revelations of infidelity and incest and its use of tapes from Sexton's psychiatric sessions. It reconciles the many Anne Sextons: the 1950s housewife; the abused child who became an abusive mother; the seductress; the suicide who carried "kill-me pills" in her handbag the way other women carry lipstick; and the poet who transmuted confession into lasting art.
Do not read this book hoping to find a sugar coated version of Sexton's life. Unless you have lived with someone like this, she will come out of these pages as a rather unpleasant, self centred person and it will be difficult to understand how so many people can like her and put themselves out for so little respect. Even if one didn't know the end of Sexton's life, it soon becomes inevitable that things will not end well - and they don't.
Certainly, in Anne Sexton's case, being a tortured soul was directly the cause of her literary output: she was advised to write by her psychiatrist and found that she was rather good. It is strange that someone so unable to appreciate the feelings of others could be so good at putting the human condition into words.
Not a pleasant read, but one well worth the effort, whether one is a fan of her poetry or no.