A Likely Story: One Summer with Lillian Hellman

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9780385477932: A Likely Story: One Summer with Lillian Hellman
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In 1978, Rosemary Mahoney, an aspiring young writer of seventeen, wrote a letter to one of her personal idols, inquiring whether this great lady of American letters might need some domestic help during the summer.

When Lillian Hellman responded affirmatively, Mahoney was ecstatic, and wasted no time imagining that the summer in Hellman's employ might cement a friendship with the iconic writer, or that the proximity to greatness might spur her own fledgling literary efforts.

In reality, Mahoney was lonesome and anxious, hiding behind a facade of self-confidence at a private New England boarding school, harboring the secrets of her complex Irish family.  Mahoney saw in Hellman an escape and a salvation from the rigors of growing up.

But once she secured the job, her hopes were swiftly shattered as the summer unfolded into an exquisite and grueling exercise in humiliation at the hands of the famously acerbic Hellman and her retinue of celebrated friends.

Contrasting the vanity of a seventeen-year-old with that of a seventy-three-year-old, this book is ultimately about the limitations of age, the complexities of literary ambition, and our need for heroes.  By turns heartbreaking and uproariously funny, A Likely Story portrays the painful coming of age of a brilliant young writer and, by extension, the universal story of innocence lost.

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Review:

In the 1970s, many a precocious American teenager weaned herself on Lillian Hellman's An Unfinished Woman, Pentimento, and Scoundrel Time. So what if the author didn't look like her onscreen alter ego, Jane Fonda, in Julia. Few, of course, would have dared to act on their obsession. But Rosemary Mahoney did, telling the chain-smoking, hard-drinking Hellman that she would love to work for her on Martha's Vineyard "in any capacity." Who better to toil for than a star who "glorified bad moods, gave them a glamorous edge, brought them to the level of art"--or so the 17-year-old thought. In a fairy-tale-like development, Hellman took Mahoney on as her part-time housekeeper. But the fairy tale was almost instantly to end, and a more complex saga of innocence, experience, and class to begin.

During the summer of 1978, Rose quickly discovered that some bad moods were beyond glorification. Relations between employer and employee were out-of-kilter from the start, since Hellman's version of the job gave "part-time" an entirely new, 24-hour definition. The gig was a far cry from Mahoney's vision of the two of them "sitting at her table together, smoking cigarettes and making toasts to this and that with upraised glasses of a glowing amber drink (never mind that I had had only a few disastrous experiences with smoking and drinking), laughing sagely and discussing books and people and the world and life." Instead Mahoney's dream job was a mixture of tension and tedium as she bumbled around the house and stubbornly refused to admit how much she wanted to be thought worthy. What's more, the teenager felt deeply out of her element amid such Vineyard glitterati as William and Rose Styron, James Taylor and Carly Simon. Some might find her descriptions of the increasingly infirm Hellman less than generous, but the older Mahoney is very much watching herself in the wings and finding her younger self just as wanting. A Likely Story is a cautionary tale about adoration and celebrity from one of our more gifted journalists--each scene literally leaps off the page, fraught with emotion recollected not entirely in tranquillity. --Kerry Fried

From the Publisher:

"Rosemary Mahoney...brings to her memoir the shaping and insight and sheer good writing we expect from a work of fiction."
--Frances Kiernan, The New York Observer

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9780385479318: A Likely Story: One Summer with Lillian Hellman

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ISBN 10:  038547931X ISBN 13:  9780385479318
Publisher: Anchor, 1999
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