LEARNING TO FLY by Mary Lee Settle

LEARNING TO FLY

A Writer’s Memoir

KIRKUS REVIEW

When she died in 2005, novelist and memoirist Settle (Spanish Recognitions: The Roads to the Present, 2004, etc.) was still working on this affecting memoir of her experiences before, during and after World War II.

Is some Settle better than none? Editor Freeman certainly thinks so, and much of this justifies her judgment. Although Freeman says the text lacks only the “final touches,” it is missing much more—not just sections the author certainly would have expanded or added but also stylistic consistency. Still, there is much to admire and make us wish for more. Settle begins in the pivotal summer of 1938, when, in love with Shakespeare and animated by her experiences at Virginia’s Barter Theatre, the 19-year-old decided to eschew her undergraduate career at Sweet Briar and flee to New York to seek her fortune. She had some successes (she rode an elevator with Harpo Marx, got to read for Scarlett O’Hara), some failures (she was certain William Castle was going to use her in a film; he didn’t). She tried modeling, and then, not long after Hitler invaded Poland, married a young Englishman and delivered his child; they separated during the war. Gradually, Settle began to realize that she was a writer. It’s not a profession you choose, she notes: “You are conscripted.” She tried poems and journalism and propaganda, working in England for the Office of War Information, before she transformed herself into a novelist with the ferocious determination and tenacity to endure the myriad rejections she received before The Love Eaters was accepted in 1953. Settle likes to talk about the literary celebrities she knew. There are good set pieces here about a nice lunch with Eliot and a nasty encounter with Maugham.

So, is some Settle better than none? A resounding yes.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 2007
ISBN: 978-0-393-05732-4
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 2007




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