Murray's paean to departed lover, friend and soul mate Flanner. Janet (New Yorker readers knew her as Genet from decades of...


DARLINGHISSIMA: Letters to a Friend

Murray's paean to departed lover, friend and soul mate Flanner. Janet (New Yorker readers knew her as Genet from decades of her ""Letters from Paris"") was a gifted and talented writer. This series of Flanner's personal correspondence from 1940 until her death in 1975 coupled with Murray's editing portrays a social milieu unfamiliar to most. How many of us could address Tennesee Williams as ""Tenn"" or Margaret Bourke White as ""Peggy""? Or be introduced to a young John Kennedy at a party for Beatrice Lillie? Or see Maria Callas at her debut at the San Carlo Opera House? And as far as Janet jumping unawares into a bathtub with Ernest Hemingway--what a howl! Flanner was a lovely writer with a keen eye and an impeccable sense of timing. Deft descriptions like DeGaulle's self-imposed political exile as "". . .abandoning la belle France like a man leaves a woman"" or "". . .money being a scale of desire in New York City"" paint vivid word pictures. Her comment that "". . .one has to pass an illiteracy test--and pass with high marks--to vote Republican"" shows Flanner at her acerbic and witty best. Janet is certainly capable of emotional sharpness, pith and wit when she describes "". . .snow melting in a roaring dribbling thaw. . ."" or ""an American fleet of naval vessels. . .filled with men, Coca-Cola and contraceptives."" But her portrayal of a book as fabulous because she believes the author thinks like Hadrian, or her being paralyzed with pain because of her separation from Natalia makes Janet seem maudlin at times and her writing uneven. Murray in her editorial asides first leads us to believe she is poverty-stricken and at the poorhouse door--then it's off all night to the Stork Club. And portraying Flanner in Paris ""like a major monument, not to be missed"" or ""behaving like a trooper"" because she didn't like airplane rides smacks either of writing from a prejudiced paramour or of impending beatification by a religious order. Ultimately what's wrong here is that there is just too much Murray and not enough Flanner. Murray is sometimes trite (""I had returned to my liberated city and found my sisters--all in one glorious day!""), occasionally smarmy (""Open City wouldn't have premiered if not for her orphans fund""), and her clumsy, heavy-handed interruptions and asides, although usually adding more than they detract, take from the substance of Flanner's writings. The vitality, the spark of Flanner's earlier works (Paris Journal, American in Paris) are missing; perhaps a third party should have been the editor here. Devotees of Genet will think Flanner's letters and Murray's comments fascinating--and the ""belle lettres"" of the age. Others--not the literary cognascienti and elite--will wonder why Murray chooses now to bury her friend Janet in public.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1985


Page Count: -

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1985