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December 22, 2017

Rereading Mary McCarthy

B.D. McClay’s review essay on Mary McCarthy is excellent, homing in on precisely those qualities of her writing that make McCarthy so simultaneously worthwhile and difficult:

If neither God nor political ideology could be counted on as firm guidelines for behavior, what, exactly, was one supposed to use? While others leaned on concepts like decency, McCarthy herself moved in a different direction. Whatever was painful, whatever was hard to say, whatever you didn’t want to look at, whatever you were afraid to do—that was where you needed to direct your attention. Find, in yourself, in the world, the points of self-delusion, and expose them. Do this over and over. You could call this honesty, or a kind of emotional masochism, or the last remnants of a Catholic upbringing.

I read The Group as an undergraduate, and found it both brilliantly readable and incredibly mean-spirited. McClay’s essay helps me better understand this reaction. And learning of Mailer’s disgust and O’Conner’s support makes me much more inclined to read her other novels.