How to Murder Your Life is far more than the sum of her collected columns ... Marnell treads a knife edge between glamorizing her own despair and rendering it with savage honesty. Several sections read like the drug-fueled interludes of The Goldfinch: queasy-making stuff far more effective than a 'scared straight' narrative. She propels the reader through what could seem like repetitiveness (drugs, binges, bad mistakes, sprawling parties) with the skill of a pulp novelist ... The exclamation points, the name-dropping, the absence of social media, the obsession with print culture and 'downtown kids' and Manhattan (the word 'Brooklyn' barely appears in the book) — How to Murder Your Life feels like an artifact from a previous New York, previous internet, previous calculus of celebrity. The book’s success stems from the wobbliness with which Marnell renders those worlds: Are they gross or sexy? Does she hate her body and run it toward destruction, or does she simply understand how female suffering has been rendered erotic?
Sex is rare and devoid of detail. Aside from a gory moment of uterine hemorrhaging and an evocative description of a cockroach 'the size of a Pepperidge Farm Milano,' any reader anticipating visceral horror will be disappointed. That’s context, not criticism ... Exclamation points abound, as do all caps and phonetically spelled sounds. (Primarily 'AUUUUUGHHH' and variations thereof.) Many, many words are italicized. It’s cosmopolitan slapstick delivered by someone so relentlessly cheerful she doesn’t even hold a discernable grudge against the various men who rob and assault her. As a piece of writing, it’s rushed and full of holes, but Marnell is charismatic enough that it almost feels wrong to complain. She makes me want to be her friend. She makes me want to do more drugs ... Drugs give us something we can’t get any other way and you don’t need to be an addict to yearn for this particular escape. This is part of what Marnell’s getting at when she advocates for a public discussion about the truth that some people—a significant number of people—use a lot of drugs, and it may never be feasible for them to stop completely ... How To Murder Your Life—as the title suggests when coming from someone very much alive and notoriously well-compensated—testifies to the fact that drugs can wreck a person while turning that person into an icon...We like to pretend that many culture-defining personalities—visual artists, canonical writers, legendary musicians, 'generation-defining' actors—were hampered by the addictions that fed their best works when we have no way of knowing what they’d have produced in sobriety. Take away their alcohol, their heroin, their Adderall: Would we still be paying attention?
How to Murder Your Life, has the quality of a dispatch from five years ago: Wow, Cat Marnell is still out there! And…still doing pretty much the same thing, I guess? ... The fact that this unrepentant party girl believes so deeply in working hard and paying your dues is profoundly endearing: You can feel how much she loves her work and how badly she wants to succeed ... How to Murder Your Life is honest, but it is not thoughtful and introspective. It’s actually a little bit boring. That intimate, slightly manic, I-am-probably-on-speed-right-now-as-I-write voice Marnell cultivated at xoJane worked brilliantly for a 500-word beauty blog post, but it cannot sustain itself for a 375-page book ... Marnell’s descriptions of her patterns — periods of manic productivity followed by periods of numbness — are realistic, but they are also exhausting, and they just keep going.