Editor and short story writer McNear (Drought, 2009) sketches the life of her alter ego, March Rivers, from her mother's womb to the present day.
McNear, an editor at Playboy in the magazine's heyday and a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin at the height of student unrest, has stories worth telling, and her kaleidoscopic, stream-of-consciousness style alternately engages and disorients. At her best, the author describes people and events in striking, original and funny ways; one character has “pools of white blonde hair that fell about her bare shoulders, like whipped cream”; another looked “like a gigantic mattress, wrapped up in plaid.” At her worst, she is a shameless name-dropper who compulsively lists her literary influences. Although individual sentences light up the prose, too much remains hazy and unsatisfying. The author's many vague disappointments and regrets are not the stuff of drama, and it's hard to become engrossed in the life story of someone for whom so little is at stake: McNear was born to wealthy parents, well-educated, well-connected, and the recipient of free housing, maid service, book contracts and highly coveted editing jobs. Many privileged people lead lives as worthy of documentation as anyone else's, but the privileged must take extra care to avoid being perceived as entitled. Given that she is hyperaware of her own feelings and largely unconcerned with those of others, including her daughters, whom she “failed…in ways she regretted, but could live with,” McNear is unlikely to come across as anything else.
Self-indulgent but worth reading for those interested in the self-dramatizing stars of the American literary scene of the 1960s and ’70s.