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HERE BUT NOT HERE by Lillian Ross


A Love Story

by Lillian Ross

Pub Date: June 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-375-50119-3
Publisher: Random House

An informative if scattershot account by Ross (Takes,1983, etc.) of her 40-year romance with New Yorker editor William Shawn. Ross, who joined the staff of the New Yorker in 1945, makes no apologies for her lengthy affair with the long-married Shawn, though she goes to great (and circular) lengths to explain and excuse it. “I couldn’t reconcile myself to being a —mistress.— I didn’t feel like one,” she writes. “Bill told me I was his —wife.— “ The entire affair was conducted with the full knowledge of Shawn’s real wife, Cecille: He and Ross kept an apartment about 12 blocks from where Mrs. Shawn and their children lived. Ross is vague and sparing with the logistics, yet apparently Shawn would usually sleep at home (where he kept a private phone in the bedroom “with a number he gave solely to me”), while taking his meals and spending most evenings with Ross (their apartment’s previous tenant had been Marlene Dietrich). Ross notes “the familiar misery in his face” after doing time en famille; although he —longed for the earthiest and wildest kinds of sexual adventures,— evidently he “never became inured to his guilt.” There’s a dated and doltish innocence in her presentation of this material, a tendency to dote goggle-eyed on Shawn that belies her true wit; Ross, after all, is well known as a tough-minded and persevering writer/reporter. Some passages are nearly incomprehensible, with few or no transitions to prepare or conclude them. Ross, who left the New Yorker with Shawn in 1987, returned in 1993, and compares Tina Brown’s regime favorably with that of her flame. Of historical interest are her recollections of J.D. Salinger and Shawn’s publication of “Zooey” over the objections of his own fiction editors. Both too quirky and too chatty; Ross is at her best when sticking to writers, writing, and Shawn’s editing. (b&w photos, not seen)