Olivia Goldsmith has passed away. And I’m angry. This did not have to happen. Goldsmith was only 54. Fifty-four. One of the first female partners at Booz Allen Hamilton. And then a not-too-shabby fiction career. But the circumstances of her death were this: she was about to undergo plastic surgery. But she felt (or was it her editors or her agent?) that she had to live up to some pinnacle of perfection. She needed a flawless face, a mug devoid of wrinkles for the photographers, an image devoid of any signs that, hey, she was 54. The great irony was that she had skewered this kind of thinking in her novel, The First Wives Club. But to hell with the merits of her writing, to hell with the fact that she had no problem savaging mid-lifers in her books. No, the important thing was the plastic surgery. There was the real world and the world within her fiction. And for Goldsmith, the real world was far crueler.
Just as she was about to go under, she had a violent reaction to the anesthesia, which incapacitated her. And now she’s dead.
All because of an image, all because of a stinkin’ author photo, all because we still judge books by their back covers rather than their innards, and all because civilization cannot stop pestering, whether deliberately or subconsiously, the older, the fatter, the more wrinkled, the more infirm, the non-Caucasian, and anybody else who doesn’t fall into the harsh physical virtues dictated by Vanity Fair and People. Olivia Goldsmith’s death isn’t just a terribly premature end for a writer who was fun. It also shows that ideals have spiraled completely out of control. Or perhaps it just confirms them.
Goldsmith’s death did not have to happen. And yet it did. And the publishing industry, with concerns of gloss and glamour, won’t stop perpetuating these shameful conditions. It will continue defaulting to the purty lil gals (Nell Freudenberger) or the hot young things (Zoe Trope), rather than the magic of the offerings. This is nothing less than a goddam tragedy. Because we lose authors like Goldsmith in the process.
[UPDATE: There’s been some speculation on this entry. And I feel it’s important to clarify the following: (1) Lest the reader waltz into grassy knoll territory, I didn’t intend to suggest that the publishing industry was the smoking gun, but that there may be extant environmental factors within that contributed to Goldsmith’s decision — a decision, it should be noted, that she alone made. Goldsmith was an author who sold well. And, as such, she had a profile to maintain. Said factors can be seen on book covers that dwell upon anatomical merits over ability, responded to in high kitsch by Susan Orlean on the cover of The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup. These elements, which pressure women to look and remain young and beautiful, can be observed during a casual stroll in the Western world. (2) No one knows enough about Goldsmith’s motivations to make a final judgment call as to cause. This was idle speculation, but I’ll let it stand unmodified for the record.]