Friday, December 09, 2011


A Charmed Life, Mary McCarthy, Harcourt Brace and Company, 1955, 313 pp

Mary McCarthy sets her novels in small claustrophobic locations. In A Charmed Life a tiny community of unsuccessful artists crowd each other socially, artistically, even personally. They get together for dinners or play readings, are literary or experimental, or just plain cracked, but all harbor secret unpleasant opinions about each other. Husbands and wives manipulate each other through lies and half truths. If these omissions have consequences, they are not relayed in the novel, but make the reader uncomfortable and nervous.

Martha Sinnott is the exception. She is a former actress, a playwright, seven years into her second marriage and specializes in bad decisions. Along with her current husband John, she has moved back to New Leeds, where she had lived with her first husband, Miles. He is remarried but still in the area.

When Martha and Miles meet up again at a party, they reconnect in the worst possible way. The consequences wreak havoc with Martha's plans for her life with John. By the time this disaster is fully in place, I was weary of the characters, New Leeds, and the story. It could only end in tragedy.

McCarthy's use of the omniscient third person point of view is impressive. All the thoughts and emotions of each main character were fully exposed. After immersing her readers in everyone's heads, she then tortures us with a drawn out, suspenseful second half of the novel.

I did not like the end though I made myself wait to see what it would be. I could not admire a single character. I felt manipulated myself even to the point of grudging admiration for McCarthy's skill and wit. To one degree or another, everyone I know including myself has some of these characters' unlovely attributes.

(A Charmed Life is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore. To find the novel at your nearest indie bookstore click on the cover image above.)

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