“Quite possibly the cleverest woman America has ever produced.” —Time
Long out of print, Mary McCarthy’s second novel is a bitingly funny satire set in the early years of the Cold War about a group of writers, editors, and intellectuals who retreat to rural New England to found a hilltop utopia. With this group loosely divided into two factions—purists, led by the libertarian editor Macdougal Macdermott, and the realists, skeptics led by the smug Will Taub—the situation is ripe not only for disaster but for comedy, as reality clashes with their dreams of a perfect society.
Though written as a roman à clef, McCarthy barely disguised her characters, including using her former lover Philip Rahv, founder of Partisan Review, as the model for Will Taub. As a result, the novel caused an absolute explosion of outrage among the literary elite of the day, who clearly recognized themselves among her all-too-accurate portraits. Rahv threatened a lawsuit to stop publication. Diana Trilling, Lionel Trilling’s wife, called McCarthy a “thug.” McCarthy’s friend Dwight McDonald (Macdougal Macdermott) called it “vicious, malicious, and nasty.”
Never one to shy away from controversy, McCarthy’s portrait of her generation had indeed drawn blood. But the brilliance of the novel has outlasted its first detonation and can now be enjoyed for its aphoritic, fearless dissection of the vanities of human endeavor.
In an added bonus, the renowned essayist Vivian Gornick details in a moving introduction the importance of McCarthy’s intellectual and artistic bravery, and how she influenced a generation of young writers and thinkers.
“Her prose is economical without being austere, witty without extravagance, tense and dramatic in its development from sentence to paragraph, clean as a chime. . . Her intelligence and learning are dazzling . . . defamatory brilliance. . .” –The New York Times
“Brilliant and true and funny and beautifully written and intelligently thought and felt.” –Cyril Connolly
“Miss McCarthy earned recognition for her cool, analytic intelligence and her exacting literary voice–a voice capable of moving from the frivolously feminine to the willfully cerebral, from girlish insouciance to bare-knuckled fury.” –Michiko Kakutani
“Pure delight…a veritable little masterpiece.” –Hannah Arendt
“The she-intellect supreme… The First Lady of American letters.” —Newsweek
“Mary’s smile is very famous. It’s not what it seems at all. It’s a rather sharkish smile. When most pretty girls smile at you, you feel terrific. When Mary smiles at you, you look to see if your fly is open.” —Dwight McDonald
“She thoroughly believed in offending people. She believed in provocation as incitement to thought, to reform, to life itself.” —Arthur Schlessinger Jr.