MARY McCARTHY: A Life by Carol Gelderman


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Gelderman (Henry Ford: The Wayward Capitalist, 1981) has pulled off one of the neatest tricks of the literary season--she has succeeded in making Mary McCarthy, that Peck's Bad Girl of American letters, dull. It's not that Gelderman doesn't deal with the facts of McCarthy's long and controversial life. There are lists of friends, enemies, husbands, lovers; dates of marriages (four of them), publications, university degrees, trips. What is missing is any analysis of what lies behind the facts. Why, for example, is novelist/essayist/social gadfly McCarthy able to deal with certain aspects of her life with a don't-give-a-damn objectivity and yet seemingly falls into schoolgirlish romanticism when involved in what used to be called ""affairs of the heart""? There is little sense here of what accounts for McCarthy's self-confessed need to show off (frequently at the expense of those who have displayed no desire to overshadow her), her more-than-occasional snobbishness, her talent. Drawing on ""exhaustive research into McCarthy's personal archives and correspondence, as well as interviews with [the author] and dozens of contemporaries,"" Gelderman, it seems, has been unable to unearth or is perhaps unwilling to reveal any previously hidden aspects of her subject's life and works. Nor has she been astute or courageous enough to formulate a fresh interpretation of just what it is that shaped McCarthy's character and literary interests. There can be problems in a biographer's working too closely with her subject; the data is all there but there is little synthesis--as is the case here. With McCarthy currently in the process of publishing her astonishingly candid memoirs (Howl Grew, 1987), both partisans and detractors will want to wait for the next installment of her own far livelier, far more revelatory recounting of her life.

Pub Date: April 4th, 1988
Publisher: St. Martin's