Who is Cat Marnell?
Cat Marnell is a blogger who gained some notoriety back in 2011 for rambling, drug-fueled posts that chronicled her many addictions, her toxic relationships, and her habit of using Plan B emergency contraception as her primary form of birth control. After either quitting or being fired from her job at the blog xoJane, she was famously quoted in the New York Post as airily remarking, “I couldn’t spend another summer meeting deadlines behind a computer at night when I could be on the rooftop of Le Bain looking for shooting stars and smoking angel dust with my friends.”
The part usually left out of that quote is “and writing a book, which is what I’m doing next.”
Now it’s here, very late and marked by a writing style that’s breezy, shocking, charming and masking a deep vein of self-loathing — just like all of Marnell’s best output.
“How to Murder Your Life” charts Marnell’s progress from poor little rich girl to boarding school junkie to narcotics-abusing beauty magazine writer. Marnell has simultaneously done a lot and virtually nothing with her life. She’s written for Time, Nylon, Self, Lucky and Vice. She’s rubbed elbows with celebrities. She’s traveled around the world. She’s also spent weeks unable to get out of bed, committed numerous drug-related crimes and made a profession of being pretty, blond and constantly under the influence.
Though Marnell’s drug-addled reputation at xoJane primarily centered on her delight in smoking angel dust (that 1980s horror-drug and frequent after-school special subject), her drug of choice throughout “How to Murder Your Life” is whatever happened to be available from a veritable cornucopia of intoxicants, both legal and otherwise. To wit: Adderall, alcohol, Dexedrine, Provigil, Vyvanse, Valium, Ambien, Lunesta, Sonata, Vicodin, Klonopin, marijuana, ecstasy, cocaine, and heroin. The famous beauty-wreckers meth and krokodil seem to be the only drugs that Marnell has not sampled. Yet.
She has also been bulimic for decades.
How is this woman still alive? And how has she managed to retain her infamous camera-ready good looks? These are the shallow questions that are, for better or worse, the source of Marnell’s on-again, off-again notoriety.
At least the other big question — how she managed to have a successful career in the cutthroat world of magazine publishing while recklessly abusing drugs — is answered in her tell-most-but-not-all memoir. Marnell was born White, very rich and well-connected. If you follow the dots in “How to Murder Your Life,” it becomes clear that every once-in-a-lifetime job and astonishing opportunity to fall into Marnell’s lap were handed to her by a wealthy boyfriend, a family friend or an equally White, rich and connected colleague. Also, Marnell’s parents consistently paid for her rent, drugs and rehab. How she managed to avoid legal trouble remains a mystery.
Marnell, for her part, is quite aware of her fortunate position: “Was I crazy-spoiled and nauseatingly privileged? Duh,” she writes.
Still, for all the advantages that even the most diligent bootstrapper couldn’t manufacture, Marnell herself made her name as a writer. Did she work hard at it? It’s difficult to tell. Reading between the lines, it appears that she worked intensely at her prestigious magazine jobs when she was able to do so. But she clearly worked erratically, and the quality of her work was dubious.
The sense that Marnell was writing from the eye of a hurricane worked in her favor during her brief tenure as beauty editor for the newly-launched blog xoJane. Her odes to intoxication and self-destruction — which somehow always wrapped up with a pitch for a particular perfume, shampoo or lipstick — were meandering, appalling and unexpectedly relatable. Marnell’s posts had the urgency of a train wreck in progress, and they captured the attention of both the public and the New York media.
She lasted for a little more than a year at the blog, with drug-related absences and angry outbursts at her coworkers increasing week by week. The final straw came when she emailed her boss, “Ugh, I did heroin last night, and now I’m sick. Throwing up. Sooo sorry.” She went to rehab for a month to avoid termination, returned unchanged and by June 2012 Marnell was out at xoJane — she refuses to clarify whether she quit or was fired. And suddenly she was famous.
“I was so sick that I’d been put on disability and dismissed from my job, yet my career was on fire. I was a mess just like I’d always been, but now everyone loved it. Magazines and websites were contacting me not only to talk but to ask if I’d write for them,” she recalls. “My trajectory toward ‘celebrity’ had a life of its own; it required zero effort from my end. [But] I was too sick to be a media star.”
After securing a $500,000 advance on her memoir in 2013, Marnell essentially vanished from the public eye, resurfacing now and then in a peculiar tweet or a dark, rambling freelance piece for Vice. “Eventually I couldn’t even handle my once-a-week Vice column. The last ones were so druggy and incoherent that they rhymed — badly,” she writes.
There’s no satisfying — or false — redemption for Marnell in “How to Murder Your Life.” In the four years since a dubious sort of fame was flung her way, she has overdosed, been to rehab twice more and missed her memoir deadline so spectacularly that her agent considered hiring a ghostwriter. And she’s still using drugs — in moderation, she claims. “I may be back on speed, but I take way less than I used to — and I feel like a totally different person,” she writes.
Taking her own memoir at face value, this is likely just another round in Marnell’s cycle of addiction, which starts with an attempt at recovery, followed by dubious temperance, an inexorable slide into heavy use and yet another sad, messy rock bottom.
And, somehow, she says, she’s doing just fine. But she could do much, much better. “How to Murder Your Life” is clearly not the end of Marnell’s all-too-common story of addiction.
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