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Writing Dangerously


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The first major literary biography of McCarthy to appear since her death in 1989, this book considers McCarthy's career as reviewer, critic, editor, author, investigative journalist, and political commentator. Brightman has successfully conveyed the ``sense of an embattled self'' caught up in the literary politics of several decades. As the title suggests, the author's approach has been to analyze the provocative elements in McCarthy's temperament, which led to promiscuity, radical politics, character assassinations, and feuds with other writers. The result is noteworthy for its portraits of prominent intellectuals of McCarthy's era; for instance, an outstanding chapter compares McCarthy and Simone de Beauvoir. Brightman, who conducted extensive interviews with McCarthy and others, argues convincingly for a reassessment of McCarthy's place in modern American literature. She writes in a journalistic style with verve, insight, and an understanding of the relation of literature to the larger culture. This valuable work is highly recommended for collections in American literature, Irish American literature, and women's studies.-- Lesley Jorbin, Cleveland State Univ. Lib.

With her seamless interweaving of the social and inner lives of McCarthy (1912-1989), Brightman ( Drawings and Digressions ) makes sense of the contradictory roles her subject played: orphan, child of privilege; Vassar student, loose woman; respected critic, lapsed Catholic; expatriate, bestselling author. On one level, Brightman tells the engrossing story of McCarthy's life: moving from the ``watery city'' of Seattle, her birthplace, to the ``dialectical tournaments'' of 1930s Partisan Review meetings to a ``bad'' seven-year marriage with Edmund Wilson that finally ended in an argument about emptying garbage pails. Threaded through the story and offering insight into McCarthy's behavior are the recurrent themes of duty, opportunism and self-criticism. Brightman's massive research satisfies both in breadth and idiosyncrasy; she quotes from letters, reviews and interviews with McCarthy and others, and she illustrates the broad reach of The Group by citing its mention in Philip Roth's Goodbye, Columbus . Few books capture so well the tyranny of the conscience of the modern Catholic artist: when, at the end of her life, the grande dame of American letters said of her work, ``I still haven't succeeded !'' we can understand why. Photos not seen by PW. (Nov.)

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