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Art and Madness: A Memoir of Lust Without Reason Hardcover – Deckle Edge, March 15, 2011

15 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Roiphe's sharp, dazzling memoir of her literary youth in late 1950s and early 1960s New York City contains a dark story of untenable marriages, alcoholism, and outrageous sexism. Raised on Park Avenue in New York City, a graduate of Sarah Lawrence in 1957, Roiphe (Epilogue) was devoted to nonconformity at all costs, art worth dying for, and a brilliant if vaguely envisioned future "as a muse to a man of great talent." Married early to a hard-drinking, egotistical playwright, she typed his plays and supported him with secretarial work, attended parties where guests indulged in adultery and alcohol with equal enthusiasm and self-sabotage. Her marriage dissolved, and saddled with a small child, Roiphe had affairs with Paris Review founders "Doc" Humes and George Plimpton, among others, and finally found a new father for her child, who happened to be a doctor. Roiphe's narrative moves in punchy, spare episodes, nonchronologically and erratically, veering from past to present tense, and requiring effort on the part of the reader. Yet she is a masterly writer: her work presents vivid, priceless snapshots of the roiling era of Communist hysteria, faddish homosexuality, male privilege, and the heartbreaking fragility of talented men and their dreams of fame. (Mar.)
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From Booklist

Guaranteed a place in the pantheon of feminist writers, Roiphe has written memoirs about her childhood, marriage, motherhood, and widowhood, yet she has always glided over her twenties. Now we understand why. Roiphe’s fiercely candid account of her struggles during the cold-war era is propulsive and abrading in its exposure of unquestioned sexism and the elevation of art (made by men only) over life. Roiphe eschews chronology, instead setting out indelible incidents like the recovered shards of broken vessels, tagging each with a year. Determined to become a writer and escape the hypocrisy of her depressed mother’s pearl-and-white-gloves set, Roiphe ends up marrying an unstable, hard-drinking, and promiscuous writer and fully embracing the role of muse. She supports him and has his child, a tempestuous daughter she takes everywhere, including to George Plimpton’s now-legendary literary parties. Roiphe does name names, but she also keenly analyzes epoch-defining shibboleths and failings in lacerating tales of alcohol-exacerbated male egomania and artistic ambition and the brazen exploitation of women enthralled by the fantasy of serving greatness. We have come a long way. --Donna Seaman

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Nan A. Talese; 1St Edition edition (March 15, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385531648
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385531641
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.2 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,076,622 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Cynthia on March 18, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I loved this book; it's one of the best I've read this year, right behind Ozick's "Foreign Bodies". The language is lush and the emotions ring true. It really touched me in part because it was chronologically a gap between my mom's generation and mine. The 50's seemed so settled but they weren't. Women were chomping at the bit to be themselves but they also longed to define themselves through their men and their children. None of this is wrong of course. It just was-- and still is in some ways.

Roiphe wasn't from the same demographic as my family. She was from the intelligentsia, from upper class, Jewish, New York but I still felt a commonality. Roiphe and her first husband had their fingers on the contemporary lit scene through their talent and their association with George Plimpton, editor of "The Paris Review", and the authors associated with it/him. The 50's were a false calm sandwiched between the war years and the upcoming cultural/sexual revolution of the turbulent `60's. Roiphe's world swirled around Radcliffe, Smith, Sarah Lawrence, Harvard, and Yale folks with their sorority/fraternity culture. The associated country clubs excluded Jews yet these same people avidly read (and were jealous of) Jewish authors. The literary world they were a part of was roiling in alcohol, competition, infidelity. The women for the most part felt their way to greatness was through their talented husbands, financially supporting them, typing their manuscripts, raising their children. Roiphe's twenties were a decade of JFK, a Cuba that might destroy the US at any second.......loving children, loving men who didn't love anything or anyone but themselves and their work......and their addictions.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By JAK on July 5, 2011
Format: Hardcover
About half way through this book I made up my mind to give it a scathing review .Bob Dylan came to mind, specifically LIKE A ROLLING STONE. It does seem rather appropriate to Roiphes life.I read with wonder how she took seriously some guy named Doc Humes and married a self important alcoholic weirdo who imagined on the basis of nothing that he was a great writer .I pictured Roiphe wandering around "artistic " New York like Mr.Jones.Thrills and chills as our heroine gets to have sex with George Plimpton .Delight in her tales of studying at Smith and Sarah Lawrence.Dates with psychiatrists , solidarity with communists. I dearly hoped for Leonard Bernstein to turn up with the Black Panthers in tow.Yes , we are firmly in bourgeois anti - bourgeois territory where all your dreams come true.You can be rich but look down on middle class people who aren't as with it as you are. But then it hit me , you are absolutely right but you're also being mean and partially missing the point. Okay Roiphe was married to a boob not John Berryman and she clearly missed the point on a lot of things, but as insufferable as she is she's wonderful. No paradoxical reasoning is intended here.

Roiphe may have been full of it ( and I can't stand Thomas Mann )but she has a kind of integrity. She actually thought art and ideas mattered,Picture that! I take it her father was some kind of super garmento and here she was trying to nurture a gentile pseudo artist because she thought he was "real".You realize that as appalling as her judgment often was ,she was reaching for something transcendent.Look , in this almost suffocatingly conformist unambitious culture , this qualifies as virtual greatness.I must confess , I would have much preferred her company , in the right circumstances , to most people with sounder judgment.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Timothy J. Bazzett on April 9, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I've become an avid fan of Anne Roiphe again, after a forty-year hiatus. The last fiction I read by Roiphe was Long Division back in the early 70s. But in the past few years I've been reading her various books of memoirs - EPILOGUE, 1185 PARK AVENUE, and now her latest, ART AND MADNESS. And let us not forget the new book's subtitle, because it is exceedingly apt: A MEMOIR OF LUST WITHOUT REASON. Who'da thunk the famously sedate fifties were filled with so much sex, drinking, sleeping around, visiting of prostitutes and, well, yeah, lust.

Roiphe was born on Christmas Day 1935 and was raised under conditions of wealth and privilege, although her home life was plagued by parents who did not love each other, a philandering and cold father and all kinds of other unhappy stuff. That story is told in 1185 PARK AVENUE, all the way up through the dissolution of Roiphe's own first marriage and the deaths of her parents and brother. EPILOGUE is all about the grief-stricken period which followed the sudden death of her second husband, a marriage that had endured for forty years.

ART AND MADNESS is quite a different kind of animal. It was written, perhaps, in response to repeated queries from her adult daughter Katie (also a writer, who penned the Foreword) about what Mom's life was like during her twenties. But I also got the feeling that, at 75-plus, Roiphe is beginning to fell time closing in, because, unlike the carefully crafted prose of the other two memoirs, this one is told in a kind of full-speed-ahead, stream-of-consciousness mode, in a broken, back-and-forth chronology jumping between the fifties and sixties. There are no chapter headings; each section is labeled only with a year, and may jump from high school to young-married/new-mother, then back to a college year, and so on.
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