The wife of publisher Roger Straus collects her ``scrapbook'' shorts on the literary luminaries of her acquaintance. In her memoirs of T.S. Eliot, Lillian Hellman, Edmund Wilson, Jerzy Kosinski, and Carlo Levi, among other formidable authors of the century (most associated with Farrar, Straus & Giroux), Straus (Virgins and Other Endangered Species, 1993; Under the Canopy, 1982; etc.) is quick with the gay or telling detail: Jean Stafford, we learn, had a ``no-welcome'' sign prohibiting misuse of the word ``hopefully'' on the premises of her home. And with the elegant turn of phrase: Aging Partisan Review cofounder Philip Rahv, delighting in the presence of his much younger new wife, is ``like someone nipped by frost who finds himself in front of a warm hearth.'' Born to the stylish German-Jewish New York society whose offspring have now all but disappeared, Straus is ever haunted by time's passing, and by increasing loneliness. (``We are obliged,'' she writes, ``to remember the dead in disconnected tableaux set into utter darkness.'') Her reminiscences of Marguerite Yourcenar, entitled ``A Master,'' and of Rahv (``Many Mansions,'' the longest, most complex and convincing portrait in the book), are of particular interest. To Straus's credit, she is conscious of the genre's limitations, and of her own limited perspective; as a patchwork quilt comprises scraps of material stitched together to create a whole, a memoir must necessarily conjoin hearsay and fact. And as she discovers, during her pursuit of Colette through the writer's daughter Colette de Jouvenal (or Little Colette), it is always best to keep an author's books separate from one's image of the author. A diverting but occasionally repetitive volume, mingling some perceptive work with less original observations.
Read full book review >