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Here But Not Here: A Love Story Hardcover – May 19, 1998

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1st edition (May 19, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375501193
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375501197
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.9 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,595,022 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

As John Cheever's stories from the New Yorker magazine demonstrate, in the upper-crust Northeast in midcentury, when divorce simply wasn't done, adultery was not exactly unheard of. But Lillian Ross's exposé of her own decades of adultery with her sainted boss, New Yorker editor William Shawn, still comes as a shock. It's doubly shocking because he was uniquely revered and had an upright if not asexual reputation and because members of the New Yorker family seldom spill the beans.

Gossip connoisseurs will gorge on Ross's tasty tidbits. As a child in Chicago, Bill Shawn narrowly escaped murder by renowned thrill killers Leopold and Loeb, who left Bill's house and kidnapped Bobby Franks instead. Bobby died and Bill became a famously shy victim of phobias--blood, violence, heights, confinement, or darkness could make him, in his own self-imploding way, go postal. When Bill's mom hired a nurse to save him from scarlet fever, the nurse "decided he needed, in addition to nursing, some sexual education. 'To my astonishment, she provided both, but I don't think it did me any harm,' Bill told me."

He was then a child of 12. It does not occur to Ross that sex might have long-term effects of any consequence. She feels zero guilt that she set up a love nest in Marlene Dietrich's old apartment 10 blocks from Shawn's family, and adopted a child, and had a phone put in by Shawn's bed, and spent Christmases with him, leaving Thanksgivings free for Shawn to spend with his wife and biological children. "Bill assured me that Cecille was going along with our arrangements. From time to time, I would think: Maybe she loves him so much she wants him to have what keeps him alive." Meow!

Mrs. Shawn, as Ved Mehta notes in his 1998 book, Remembering Mr. Shawn's New Yorker, was a reporter who supported her husband when they got to New York, and even got him his fateful job at the magazine, prior to devoting herself to their family. Ross got assignments from Shawn that made her famous, but she notes, "We never experienced even a moment of 'conflict of interest' problems, for the simple reason that we never had any conflict of interest.... If I wanted to see Bill in his office, I called his secretary, like everyone else."

"I have always been less inclined than most people I know to indulge in self-analysis," writes Ross. She may be a renowned reporter, but her own mind is one subject that entirely escapes her notice.

Annoyed that romantic emotions were spoiling her mood when her career took off in 1950 ("I felt I should have been having a lot of fun. Instead, I was being emotionally distracted and drained"), Ross did what any disgruntled journalist would do. She spent a year and a half at company expense in Hollywood, playing tennis with Charlie and Oona Chaplin, bonding with Bogart and Bacall, and writing the classic book Picture about her dear friend John Huston's movie The Red Badge of Courage. Ross became an A-list partygoer, the first major showbiz reporter with highbrow credentials, and Huston and company handed her a story much better than the movie in question. "I thought I was the luckiest reporter in the history of journalism," writes Ross, who may be right. And no wonder she was such a hit: cute, connected, willing to listen to egomaniacs and let subjects read her drafts before publication, Ross was, like the showbiz-titan pals of Carrie Fisher that are celebrated in her Hollywood roman à clef Delusions of Grandma, "ruthless and glad."

But Ross's impersonal journalism method works better with big, showy subjects such as Huston or Ernest Hemingway. Faced with the elusive Mr. Shawn, who practically had the power to cloud men's minds so that they could not see him, she fails to illuminate his heart for the reader, despite all the fascinating facts at her command. And does she know how classically, rascally masculine a lot of Shawn's lines sound? Many of them boil down to "My staff doesn't understand me."

Ross notes that William Shawn's brother Mike wrote the Doublemint ad jingle "Double Your Pleasure, Double Your Fun." William clearly doubled Lillian's fun. But with Mr. Shawn, doubleness wasn't the half of it. --Tim Appelo

From Publishers Weekly

Appearing almost simultaneously with Ved Mehta's Mr. Shawn's New Yorker (Forecasts, April 6), Ross's memoir of William Shawn, who was her lover from 1952 until his death in 1992, shows us, with mixed results, the private side of the talented, self-effacing New Yorker editor. Like Mehta's book, this one flirts with hagiography, but here we see Shawn away from his deskAand outside the marriage that he maintained throughout his and Ross's affair. The author depicts him as a passionate lover, a devoted, unofficial father to her adopted son and a deeply ambivalent editor who called his vocation a "big mistake," his professional life "the ultimate cell." Unfortunately, New Yorker writer Ross (Takes) fails to bring these personaeAromancer, father, literary midwifeAinto focus, and she continually stresses the bliss of the relationship rather than its (probably more interesting) complications. Despite the book's title, Shawn's persistent complaint that he wasAwhether at home or at the magazineA"here but not here," seems never to cast a shadow on his time with Ross, which she describes in almost impossibly sunny terms. When she mentions her guilt about the affair, she is quick to bury it in a r?sum? of personal and professional triumphs, achieved in company with luminaries as varied as A.J. Liebling, Charlie Chaplin and Robin Williams. Ross succeeds best in giving us a glimpse of Shawn's private, romantic idealsAof both his work and his affair with her ("Our time together defied death," he told her). Some readers will balk at Ross's repeating these cris de coeur for public consumption; the rest will probably wish for a less romanticized account of this love story. Photos.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

That's the story that Lillian Ross is celebrating.
melfiske@jps.net Mel Fiske
Unfortunately, I was unpleasantly surprised by the less that stellar writing.
anna paola
Because, as the title says, "when he was with you, he wasn't really alive."

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 7, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Oh dear but I wish this book was written by the "other woman"---in this case, William Shawn's wife. The author, well known New Yorker writer Lillian Ross comes across as a probably horrid, self absorbed user, which is not, I'm sure, what she intended. While the book is very interesting when the subject is Mr. Shawn and the workings of the New Yorker, everytime she gushes about their enduring love (which she does, endlessly) her writing is banal beyond belief. One thinks, reading much of this book, that perhaps she was only a top writer once--when he was her editor. One of the truly fascinating characters in this book in Wallace Shawn. Perhaps someday he'll write his version of this story.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 11, 2002
Format: Paperback
I looked forward to reading this book for some time but only recently had the chance but it was sad and disappointing. The disappointment came from the thin writing -- from a writer who has had such a rich a varied background. Endless repetitions of phrases (He said he was there and not there; he said I was his wife; I felt no guilt). Repetitions of situations, so on. This is a 20 page monologue carried on 20 times -- and with none of the details that one would like to hear from this very accomplished writer.
What was it like working at the New Yorker all those years? What was it like to interview and work with people like John Huston, Francois Truffaut, Charlie Chaplin, Oona O'Neil, Frederico Fellini, so on.
This book, this writer, needed an editor if anyone did.
But a sequel would be welcome by me -- one that tells the other Lillian Ross story/memoir. This 'wife's lament' is, well, not a very poetic one and not one that commends Lillian Ross as a raconteur.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Cornelia on March 20, 2011
Format: Paperback
Disappointing. But why should we assume a great reporter can be a great observer of her own affair?

Ross truly believes that Shawn would "die" if she didn't become his mistress? What does that say about her ego? That their "love" defied "death?" What it defied was guilt, morals and public opinion.

Very charming. A writer can be very eloquent about other people's lives, but when it comes to their own, they use the same old tricks: denial. - I wasn't part of their problem. - I have no guilt because well, I'm not into self-analysis.

So indeed, this book is short of "self-analysis" other than reporting that it was a great affair: I got everything I wanted! Vengeful, no? A book-length tic-for-tac response. Mrs. Shawn to Ross: "He died in my arms." Ross's memoir: "Oh, yeah, he LIVED in my arms." Because, as the title says, "when he was with you, he wasn't really alive." Ouch!

It's also interesting to see that three educated, elite Americans settled their relationship not so different from the 'concubine' or 'polygamy' arrangement as in some traditional societies. Except that the binding force here is not convention but "love." Both women love the man who loves them both. Leaving either woman will kill the man: either by guilt (for the wife) or by deprivation of love (from the mistress).

Like a great opera. But unfortunately, there are kids involved here. Even an autistic child. (Read Allen Shawn's memoirs.)

Suppose one side of the triangle collapses, say Mrs. Shawn agreed to leave the marriage and let the lovers marry each other and have kids and yadiyadiyada... would the lovers remain madly in love for forty years?
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By snorth@ix.netcom.com on July 6, 1998
Format: Hardcover
My God, where is Shawn when we need him? Lillian Ross' paean to Bill and Tina needs Shawn's ball-pointed editor's pen like potholes need tar.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Joel Canfield on October 8, 2007
Format: Paperback
Okay, let's start by saying that I'm a big fan of the New Yorker and its legendary staff from the last century. Also a big fan of Lillian Ross's PICTURE. But this book will drive you to drink, do drugs, sit in your closed garage with the car running, whatever it takes to alter your consciousness. When she sticks to briefly writing about other people - Bogart, Hemingway, Chaplin, John Huston - she's on solid ground as always - brief, effective, perceptive. When she goes back to the subject of her book - her decades-long affair with William Shawn, editor of the New Yorker - she rambles, she avoids, she loses focus, structure and sense. She keeps going on about what an animal he was in bed - you look at the pictures of him in the book and decide for yourself - while everything else she writes about him makes him sound like a whining forlorn child-man who gnashes many teeth and wrings his hands with alarming frequency. She is absolutely in denial about how carrying on this weird affair affected her emotionally - everything is always so perfect and he's so wonderful - and in denial, I think, about just who this man was and what bizarre mind games he played. I did appreciate the paragraph about how fond he was of lifting his hat (hence the name of this review, taken directly from that paragraph). This book would be stunning if it were as honest and objective as the author's other book. It's not and the fact that her talent is involved in this elaborate unformed and tortured justification makes it unbearable.
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