KATHERINE ANNE PORTER: A Life by Joan Givner

KATHERINE ANNE PORTER: A Life

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Painstakingly separating fact from self-promotional legend, sympathetically tracing all life/fiction parallels, Givner (Univ. of Regina) offers a Katherine Anne Porter in full, revealing, unflattering detail--a Porter whose life (stripped of its glamorous auras) makes for rather depressing, static reading. Texas childhood was ""poverty, homelessness, and lack of family life and love"": her mother died; ""her father's neglect left her with an insatiable hunger for masculine admiration""; her grandmother was puritanical. So beautiful teenager Callie rebelled (but with self-destructive ambivalence)--rushing into the first of her disastrous marriages, changing her name, traveling, dabbling in show-business and journalism, then (after near-fatal illness, cf. ""Pale Horse, Pale Rider"") committing herself to fiction, with a near-obsessive theme: ""the passive promotion of evil by innocent people."" But her literary progress was notoriously slow--thanks to ""a short interest span,"" insecurities (especially after a hysterectomy), and her frantic need for adoring lovers in Greenwich Village, Mexico, Europe. Even after 1929 short-story success (Flowering Judas), she ""felt impotent, panicky, and feverish""--and would always have difficulty in writing, taking decades to complete Ship of Fools. Meanwhile, she visited early-Nazi Germany (""a dismal record of cheating, lying, slander, and malice""); she alternated between periods of work and distraction; there were more affairs (often humiliating), marriages, unorthodox teaching stints, efforts to rewrite her past, celebrity in old age. And, while Givner gives near-clinical attention to Porter's pathology and unpleasantness (""her virulent anti-Semitism was part of a general racism""), she sees the writer's slow, agonizing efforts to turn her miseries into fiction as ""a most brave voyage."" For Porter admirers, then, this literate, massively well-researched study will be uncongenial yet often-fascinating reading--with generous excerpts from the more autobiographically-colored fiction and from unpublished/little-known work. Others, however, may find this a somewhat oppressive case-study of an essentially unchanging personality--especially since Givner's psychological approach to the fiction tends to stress its least impressive qualities.

Pub Date: Nov. 23rd, 1982
ISBN: 0820313408
Publisher: Simon & Schuster