COMPOSING A LIFE by Mary Catherine Bateson


Email this review


Here, Bateson sets out to prove the advantages of improvisation as a tool for creative living by tracing the patterns in her own life and those of four successful female friends. It's an intriguing premise--a study of how five highly intelligent women have shaped their lives as artistic creations, working with whatever materials were at hand. The subjects of Bateson's study are full of potential as well: Bateson herself, daughter of Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson and author of With a Daughter's Eye (1984) and Thinking A.I.D.S. (1988); Joan Erikson, dancer, jewelry designer, and collaborator with her husband, psychiatrist Erik Erikson; Ellen Bassuk, a physician working with the homeless; Johnetta Cole, anthropologist, black activist, and college president; and Alice d'Entremont, an electrical engineer. But, sadly, Bateson fails to follow up on her intention to analyze ""life as an improvisatory art"" and ""the ways we combine familiar and unfamiliar components in response to new situations."" Instead, she serves up a series of seemingly random anecdotes from her friends' lives, then fails, oddly, to penetrate their meaning or to point out how these women's life choices were more creative or deliberate than those of any other person trying to survive. The author's most passionate writing is reserved for her own sense of injustice at not having been appointed acting president of Amherst College--a professional disappointment that in itself holds little intrinsic interest for the reader. In the end, the book seems of only faint interest--a disturbing instance of creative improvisation gone awry.

Pub Date: Oct. 26th, 1989
ISBN: 0802138047
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly--dist. by Little, Brown