WHERE THE WINGS GROW by Agnes de Mille
Kirkus Star


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De Mille has done it again--has taken herself and some people she loved, has choreographed those lives into a gathering drama that sneaks its way far beyond the first person singular. Oh, yes, she begins deliciously with a bedsidebook memoir of childhood summers before World War I, music and milk (""not pasteurized but we knew the cows personally"") and ""gingham mornings"" at Merriewold, the Delaware River Gap woodland where de Milles and Georges (grandpa was Henry ""Single Tax"" George) had summer houses and the only tennis court in Sullivan County. But don't be fooled, bucolically lulled, for a minute. For down the ""Other End"" from Agnes and her so-in-love parents was Shoo Foo Den, the Japanese mansion lifted from the 1904 St. Louis Exhibition by Dr. Jokichi Takamine, millionaire scientist and distant relation, husband of ""Aunt"" Caroline. While tiny Agnes detects budding discontent between her ""sexy"" playwright father and her proper mother, de Mille tells the late-19th-century story of the Takamines--how Caroline became the first American-born lady to marry a Japanese, how the shrewd mother-in-law helped the young chemist to make a fortune, how he then removed the business from her control, how Dr. Takamine now spoils his playboy sons, who are worshipped by the impressionable girl cousins--like Agnes. Marvelous characterizations, fascinating relationships, but what, one begins to wonder, is going on here? Then the epilogues float in--the suicide of the profligate older Takamine boy, the shame behind Aunt Caroline's cool grace, teenage Agnes' disheartening return to Merriewold after four years in California, her parents' divorce. ""Our lovely time--it wasn't going to last."" That, of course. But more: the ways of men with women, when sex was a universal mystery. '""I stand as witness that the suffering of women like my mother was excruciating and lifelong."" De Mille, stage wizard that she is, uses tiffs feminist theme to give her recollections an undertow but never lets it catch her up or drag her about. Always there is the see-saw of sentiment and no-nonsense, passion (occasionally a mite overwrought) and irony--the flawless sense of dramatic and comic moments, the pioneer optimism. It's not surprising that the usual childhood memoir wouldn't satisfy Agnes de Mille; she has turned hers into a ballet, an elegy, a piece of social history, and a cause for celebration.

Pub Date: Jan. 20th, 1977
Publisher: Doubleday