Seeing Mary Plain: A Life of Mary McCarthy

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9780393038019: Seeing Mary Plain: A Life of Mary McCarthy

Novelist and critic Mary McCarthy never failed to make an impression. Her life was full of drama and she moved in a circle of the sharpest-tongued intellectuals of her time, all of whom had plenty to say about this brilliant and glamorous woman. Kiernan has interviewed dozens of McCarthy's friends to produce a work rich in gossip and eloquent testimony.

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Review:

"To see Mary McCarthy plain is not quite so simple as it sounds," writes Frances Kiernan, a comment amply borne out in her many-faceted biography of one of America's most famous and controversial women of letters. Interspersing her narrative and analysis of McCarthy's life (1912-1989) with lengthy direct quotes from the writer's friends, lovers, colleagues, and enemies, Kiernan tries to blend the depth of a critical biography with the immediacy of oral history. The mixture doesn't always quite gel, but McCarthy's forceful personality emerges with intimacy and pungency from the chorus of disparate opinions. Her character was formed by her parents' early deaths, a miserable childhood redeemed by intellectual stardom in school, and scads of poorly judged sexual entanglements (including a ghastly seven years wed to Edmund Wilson) that ended only with her happy fourth marriage. There's little in McCarthy's life that isn't already familiar to readers of her fiction, from The Company She Keeps to The Group, and her liberal political convictions are also a matter of record, not least from her own journalism and essays. Kiernan's achievement is to reveal a woman best known for her slashing intellect and feared for her ferocious critical judgments as very human and surprisingly vulnerable. --Wendy Smith

About the Author:

Frances Kiernan was fiction editor for The New Yorker for twenty-one years and has also worked as a book editor.

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