Episodic reflections on a literary life.
Gallagher here tells tales of her Russian-immigrant Jewish family and her own slow beginnings as a writer. Her depiction of her family, at times, seems almost a caricature (when shopping for a party dress, for example, her mother and aunts looked only for models that could be worn with the price tags tucked in—so that it could be returned the morning after the gala). When the author, as a young woman, first expressed her hope of becoming a writer, her parents were predictably dubious (especially as her first bylines appeared in a pulp magazine): What kind of work was that for a nice Jewish girl? They were, however, just as predictably satisfied when she published her first book. The biography she wrote (of an obscure Italian anarchist) had a difficult birth, to put it mildly: an editor at Knopf signed her up and subsequently rejected her manuscript as unpublishable. Later on, a university press picked it up, and it garnered acclaim in the New York Times<\I> and other respectable venues. While the inside account of the author’s first book is of moderate interest, some of her portrayals of the creative process are downright bizarre. Gallagher goes on at some length to describe an essay she wanted to write about a family friend who was found murdered in her apartment in a rundown part of town. She sees it as a perfect expression of contemporary social history—an elderly Jew in a neighborhood that is no longer Jewish, a body found in a bathtub, a mysterious dark-skinned man leaving the premises. But it turns out that there was no dark-skinned man—the prime suspect was the dead woman’s money-hungry daughter. How, muses Gallagher, could she write her brilliant article without the Negro?
Anna Yezierska she’s not, but Gallagher does offer some charming vignettes.