SEEING MARY PLAIN

A LIFE OF MARY MCCARTHY

An extraordinary biography of the late essayist and novelist (1912—89) by a former fiction editor of The New Yorker. Kiernan begins in 1984 as McCarthy accepts a literary prize, then returns to 1910 and chronology. After her parents died in the 1918 flu epidemic, Mary went to live with relatives, attended Catholic schools (experiences she assessed in Memories of a Catholic Girlhood, 1957), attended Vassar (where she played the Virgin Mary in a pageant and later set her best-known novel, The Group, 1963), and then set out to conquer a literary world not friendly to women, especially those with her acerbic wit and disarming candor. As a drama critic, she savaged plays that have become masterpieces of the American stage, including A Streetcar Named Desire. She went on, however, to enjoy a distinguished, though controversial, literary career, which featured, near the end, a bitter libel suit by Lillian Hellman. Responding to an “irresistible impulse,” she abruptly ended the first of her four marriages, then married critic Edmund Wilson (a “fat squinty-eyed cartoon character with a skull like a squashed melon,” comments Kiernan). Her final marriage—to diplomat Jim West—lasted her remaining 29 years. Kiernan reveals startling details about McCarthy’s sex life (She reprints Edmund Wilson’s description of his techniques for bringing McCarthy to orgasm, and reveals that both Arthur Koestler and Paul Tillich made unsuccessful passes at her), and discloses how fame and modest fortune engendered McCarthy’s surprising fondness for fashion. Kiernan is not always profound, and is sometimes downright banal in her observations——If you don’t like the way things are going, you can stand and fight or you can pick up and leave”—and in her use of myriad offset quotations from McCarthy and her circle, which suggest a research paper by an undergraduate determined to use all her note cards. All in all, though, the definitive life of McCarthy, comprehensive in scope and scrupulously researched. (16 pages photos, not seen)

Pub Date: March 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-393-03801-7

Page Count: 848

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2000

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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