Pamela Moore wrote Chocolates for Breakfast, an eyebrow raising 1956 novel about lost teenage girls living privileged and depressing lives, when she was only 18. The book was a hit and put the female name Courtney on the map (Courtney Love counts herself among one of the girls named after protagonist Courtney Farrell,) but Pamela never had another hit and killed herself when she was only 27 years old.
The popular book had several prints but lay dormant for years until her son Kevin Kanarek, who was less than a year old when she shot herself, fought to have it re-released the summer of 2013.
It’s partially disappointing that there are no chocolates consumed for breakfast during the book, but it’s also a bit satisfying because the name beautifully conjures the decadence described within, laced with euphemistic innocence and deceit. Instead of sweets, Courtney, and her friend often indulged in whiskey and cocktails in the morning, usually without going to bed at all.
Courtney comes off as a thoughtful narrator deep in the throws of new teenage feelings and confusion, and her antics play like the disjointed plots of a handful of Gossip Girl episodes, which is a good thing. Her escapades are a bit relatable to anyone who’s been to college and felt a little lost and lonely, but aren’t very accessible to most folks when you’re talking about high school dalliances. It’s an engaging lament of bored, depressed, poor-little-rich girls.
But it’s not just about kids losing their innocence, it’s about depression, and Pamela writes about depression with an expert’s glide. When the book was unearthed a few years ago, The Rumpus asked Pamela’s son if her suicide was inevitable, if we tend to admire writers more when they kill themselves. “I think the temptation to read backwards from her ending is hard to resist: we can admire the writer more for it, or admire her less. But it’s also a logical fallacy, right? Seeing things as predestined for some arbitrary end which they happened to fall or evolve into,” Kanarek replied. “Everyone wants to color the story based on their agenda.”
Just because Pamela Moore wrote a sad book doesn’t mean she was destined to kill herself. We do tend to romanticize talented writers who struggle with mental illness. They can write so beautifully about what it’s like to suffer from depression, and also convey deep insight about life, but it’s their art and insight that should be celebrated, not their miseries and maladies. Suicide isn’t inevitable, no matter what the circumstances, and being a lost girl (or boy,) doesn’t mean your life is doomed. When you turn your life to ruins, the debris can often be used to reconstruct something solid – something you come to appreciate more that what you thought you destroyed.
Even though the end of Chocolates for Breakfast is bleak, it is buoyed by a fierce and defiant will to live. The saddest thing isn’t that Pamela had experienced enough of these bleak and sophisticated situations to write about them with just a wry intelligence, the saddest thing is what happened to her after her book became a quick success. According to an essay by her son included in the 2013 edition of the book, Pamela fell deeply for struggling filmmaker Edouard de Laurot and offered herself and her earnings to him on a silver platter. He drained her for all she was worth, and she clung to the idea that she would continue to have massive literary success to sustain her lover. When we’re young, even if we’re exceptionally gifted and smart, it can be tough to maneuver through success and even tougher to suss out genuine people when we know nothing but the vapors of a young heart. She seems to have gone vampire hunting for someone to give all her blood to.