The best critical biography of Plath yet, poet Stevenson's ( The Fiction Makers ) volume offers a convincing reinterpretation of a complex and controversial life. The author's objectivity and her success in assembling new sources pay off richly: bombarded by a superbly orchestrated array of opinions, quotations, details and anecdotes from Plath and those who knew her (Ted Hughes, Plath's husband, provided background information and reviewed the manuscript for factual accuracy), we are enabled, with Stevenson's guidance, to draw fresh conclusions about the late poet's conflicts between her fierce drive to succeed and keen appetite for self-destruction. Of particular significance is Stevenson's effort to present needed balance in portraying the marriage of Hughes and Plath; no longer cast as a victim of her husband's alleged infidelities (largely imagined, the book asserts), Plath emerges as the forger of her own fate leading to her 1963 suicide. Essays written in remembrance of Plath by Lucas Myers, Dido Merwin and Richard Murphy provide striking, invaluable firsthand views. Photos not seen by PW.