Perceptive, engaging memoirs of a woman’s life shaped around the absence of certain men.
For novelist and memoirist Johnson (Minor Characters, 1983, etc.), the first man whose departure affected her life was her cultured grandfather, whose early suicide left his daughter with unrealized artistic longings. A stereotypical stage mother living through her child, she pushed Joyce to become an actress/dancer/composer. From her highly managed childhood, the author skips ahead to the early 1960s, when she was 26. (Presumably because Minor Characters covered Johnson’s romance with Jack Kerouac, those years are barely mentioned.) She had already lived with and been left by one painter, and was about to take up with another, James Johnson. Missing men figured in his life, too: he was a fatherless man who had left his own sons behind when he separated from their mother. The sad tale of James and Joyce’s love affair and brief marriage, which provided the basis for her novel In the Night Café (1989), is set in the lofts and bars of Greenwich Village, where money was scarce, art was abstract, and drinking was heavy. Within a year of his accidental death in 1963, she met and fell for another fatherless Abstract Expressionist, Peter Pinchbeck. Definitely not a family man, Pinchbeck married Johnson only after she became pregnant, assured by her that having a baby around would not change his life as an artist. In understated style she recounts her attempts to keep that promise by supporting herself, her son, and a husband whose paintings did not sell. After five years she left Pinchbeck, began reading feminist writers, found that living alone suited her, and discovered that she could write. Living apart but still married until he died in 2000, they were more than friends but less than lovers, linked by a son and a past but separated by unbridgeable differences.
A memoir of easy grace and lively intelligence, filled with striking portraits of individuals, a time, and a place.