Never Breathe a Word: The Collected Stories of Caroline Blackwood

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9781582437071: Never Breathe a Word: The Collected Stories of Caroline Blackwood
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Though perhaps better known for her tumultuous marriages to the painter Lucian Freud and poet Robert Lowell, Caroline Blackwood remains a woman whose formidable intellect and artistry indelibly marked every person she met and every sentence she crafted. When he interviewed her a year before her death in 1996, The New York Times chief art critic, Michael Kimmelman, called Blackwood a strangely dramatic woman: intense and vulnerable, with . . . a dark, razor-sharp sense of humor and an offbeat sensibility.”

The same can be said of the mostly female, and often troubled, characters in the stories of this startling new collection. Selections span the entirety of her career, from her first book, For All That I Found There, to Good Night Sweet Ladies, one of her last. The seven evocative nonfiction vignettes draw directly from Blackwood’s fascinating life, from her early difficult years through her days as a quintessential bohemian. Three entirely unpublished stories are included in the collection.

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From Publishers Weekly:

Starred Review. A selection of grimly compelling fiction and journalistic pieces by Blackwood (1931–1996), the Irish-born author and wife to Lucian Freud and Robert Lowell, spotlights her sharp-edged observations. Blackwood frequently excoriates her characters, starting with the painter's widow of The Interview, who holds forth with a young journalist and reveals nasty details of her marriage. Many of the characters are outsized meanies: the greedy, tyrannical nanny in The Baby Nurse takes over a family's London flat when the new baby arrives and the new mother sinks into a severe postpartum depression; while in Taft's Wife, a social worker endures an excruciating, drunken lunch with a prosperous, depraved mother and the 14-year-old son she once put up for adoption. Shocking, too, is the owner of a beauty parlor in Who Needs It? who sacks a new hire because the concentration camp numbers tattooed on her arm dampen the lighthearted mood of her salon. A handful of nonfiction pieces explore the author's childhood and the bourgeois fantasy of the Beatniks to round out this accomplished oeuvre by an author who should be better known in the States. (Feb.)
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From Booklist:

The veiled widow of a famous artist in “The Interview,” the tour de force that launches this galvanizing collection, is at once magnificent and monstrous during a disastrous interview with a humorless, priggish young journalist. The escalation of their verbal fencing match, the accretion of alarming details, the rising bizarreness, and the deepening anguish are Poe-like, while the caustic wit recalls that of Dorothy Parker. And throughout, one can’t help but appreciate Blackwood’s wry twisting of autobiographical details. As portrayed by Nancy Schoenberger in Dangerous Muse (2001), Blackwood (1931–96), a beautiful Irish aristocrat and Guinness heir, counted among her husbands poet Robert Lowell and painter Lucian Freud, and was infamous for her wildness. And what fuming, self-destructing women she portrays in her acid stories: a doggedly cheerful beauty-shop owner undone by a dignified Holocaust survivor; a scorned wife on a demonic shopping spree. Blackwood’s devastating fiction is followed by a selection of quirky, deft, and diabolical personal essays that suggest the impetus for her unflinching scrutiny of the dark side. Let this collection spark a Blackwood revival. --Donna Seaman

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