A CHARMED LIFE by Mary McCarthy
Kirkus Star

A CHARMED LIFE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

This new novel by the author of The Groves of Acadame and a number of other novels and short stories is fascinating and entertaining reading -- for a somewhat sophisticated audience. Perhaps the total impression and impact of the book is not as great as the brilliance of its parts. John and Martha Sinnott return to settle in New Leeds (a Bohmeian community rather like Provinestown), she to write a play and he to do free lance historical articles. She wants very much to have a baby (after 7 years of marriage) to lend ""purpose"" to their lives. Things are complicated by the fact that her first husband, Miles Murphy, from whom she ran away with John, now lives with his third wife and their child very near. Their mutual friends, especially the Coes, are curious to find out what will happen when the paths of the Murphys and the Sinnotts cross. What does happen is that Miles seduces Martha, Martha finds herself pregnant (probably by John but possibly by Miles), and decides to have ar abortion. This plot sounds more sensational than it is in the handling. Actually, it is relatively unimportant and contrived when compared with the main interest of the book which is a study of the various Bohemian and intellectual types who people the pages so engagingly, and the witty way they are presented. The adolescent Coes are really devastatingly portrayed; Miles' brilliance as well as his brutality and dishonnesty are vividly dramatized; Martha's intellectualized sensitivity is made immediate and real; and many minor characters come off clearly and pointedly. Perhaps it is the weakness of John's character that makes the ending seem an easy way out and gives the reader a feeling of ""And so-what?"" rather than that here is indeed the final irony. Up to that point it is rewarding reading, witty and stimulating. Like much of Miss McCarthy'S work, it reads like a roman a clef. It should appeal to readers who do not have the key as well as to those who do.

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace