Email this review


This pleasant memoir of the 1950s and '60s is an ode to Manhattan's unique brand of chaotic energy, by one of the island's adopted daughters. Manhattan was the Emerald City for Cantwell, who told of her New Hampshire childhood in An American Girl (1992). Cantwell is a committed denizen of Greenwich Village (""not because of what the Village is but because of what I have made it"") from the moment she arrives as a hope-filled graduate of Connecticut College. Her series of Village residences form the framework for this quiet, occasionally humorous, occasionally painful tale, the objective correlative of her passing from single aspiring writer to young married, mother, and divorced career woman (she is now an editorial board member of the New York Times). Cantwell is remarkably tolerant of her youthful self--her New York pretensions, her social anxieties--and even of her husband, a high-flying literary agent who left her (with two children) for his secretary. Cantwell's joys--the pleasure she takes in turning out fashion copy for Mademoiselle, meeting Alice B. Toklas in Paris with her husband--are laced with unhappiness--the inability to form an identity apart from her husband, her suicidal madness after the birth of her first daughter. With admirable restraint, Cantwell spares us the endless emotional navel-gazing (and feminist cant) that often afflicts such memoirs of self-discovery (or self-invention). At the same time, however, it deprives her tale of juice. Her colleagues at Mademoiselle and later Vogue are mere sketches; and she seems to accept unquestioningly the apparently sudden and full resolution of various emotional difficulties (e.g., her profound discomfort with sex disappears once she discovers ""what it is for,"" i.e., making babies). One longs to know what her warm, patient psychiatrist, Dr. Franklin, thought of these episodes. Still, Cantwell's lovely prose and passions for Manhattan, motherhood, and work will resonate for many women.

Pub Date: Sept. 18th, 1995
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin