WRITING DANGEROUSLY by Carol Brightman

WRITING DANGEROUSLY

Mary McCarthy and Her World

KIRKUS REVIEW

 In this first-rate but overly long biography, Brightman (Larry Rivers: Drawings and Digression--not reviewed) has whole plates of intellectual history to offer, upon which Mary McCarthy sits never quite centrally enough. If there is a gift for malice--malice elevated to social distinction-making of the most valuable sort (as in some of Proust's characters)--McCarthy certainly had that. Plus a poised self-regard for her mind and body that would net her any number of lovers and friends over the years, a supporting cast of characters who bravely waited for the day when McCarthy--as was sure to happen--would discard them. An outcast as a child--the McCarthy children were furloughed off to live with an inhospitable uncle in Minneapolis before being rescued by Seattle grandparents--McCarthy seemed to promise herself never to be tangential again. Into the swim she ever thereafter was--at Vassar; among the anti-Stalinist Partisan Review crowd of the New York Thirties; married to Edmund Wilson; making a close alliance with Hannah Arendt; later, touting Ho Chi Minh and taunting Lillian Hellman. She become the embodiment of a nasty grande-dame type. Brightman is a fair- and jaundiced-enough biographer to recognize that McCarthy's reckless malice was often fueled by the essential disappointment of her life as a writer. McCarthy could not get beyond her own personality; her memoirs are her best work, but the essays and the fiction are either too shrill or too lightweight (recalling Gertrude Stein's ``'Remarks are not literature''). But the patience of her last two husbands, and of Hannah Arendt, testify to the sheer attractiveness and lack of fear in McCarthy as she cut a substantial (if never quite broad-enough) swath through her times. (Photos--not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 10th, 1992
ISBN: 0-517-56400-9
Page count: 768pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1992




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