From Publishers Weekly
July 7, 2011, will mark the 30th anniversary of the death of Isabella Gardner at the age of 64. Unlike Dylan Thomas, Robert Lowell, and Allen Ginsberg--all male stars of the American poetry firmament of the 1950s, and Plath, the tragic female among them--Gardner's reputation, Janssen suggests, suffers from not being taken seriously, perhaps not even by herself. Once her fourth marriage collapsed in 1966, the patrician Gardner began to decline, moving into New York's ultra-bohemian (and ultra-rundown) Chelsea Hotel. After her troubled son, Daniel, a prominent photographer and filmmaker in the downtown scene, died under mysterious circumstances, and her daughter Rose, whose drinking had gotten out of hand, admitted herself to an institution, Gardner drifted through a series of alcohol-fueled dead-end relationships in California until finally returning to the Chelsea Hotel to spend a few final years in relative peace. In telling Gardner's story, Janssen avoids the arcane, particularly when dealing with her rebellious years, when Gardner fought against her white-glove upbringing to pursue a career in the theater. But when she became involved with Poetry magazine, she realized her true calling. The association led to her first and best collection, Birthdays from the Ocean, and these narrative threads breathe vivid life into a highly accessible biography. Photos. (Dec.)
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A chronicle of the 20th-century Brahmins, viewed through the eyes of an addictively interesting black sheep. It rivals Geoffrey Wolff's memorable BLACK SUN . . . as best-ever book about Bostonians Behaving Badly.
--Alex Beam, Boston Globe
A fascinating biography. . . . [H]er life, a largely grim drama . . . starred scores of characters -- patricians and poets, artists and activists, wannabes and wastrels, ad men and madmen.
--Pamela Miller Star TribuneJanssen's sensitive biography should help restore Gardner to her rightful place in modern poetry. . . . [T]his exemplary biography provides fresh insight into recent American literary history. . . . Highly recommended
--Carl Rollyson CHOICE
An engrossing window into the tumultuous life of an American poet. . . . [I]t will spark new and well-deserved interest in Gardner's . . . work. Autumn Arnold in Raffia: Magazine for Gender Studies
Marian Janssen has done an admirable job of compiling a life, but it is one that still raises many questions.
Jacquelyn Pope Harvard Review Online
“A very well-written biography. A truly compelling story of a woman who both wants to live her own life and wants badly to please others, particularly men, particularly her husbands, and most particularly her fourth husband, Allen Tate—who betrays her in the end. Janssen’s portrait of Gardner is sympathetic, but it is not uncritical.”—Fred Hobson, author of Mencken: A Life
“This is a great biography that will give Isabella Gardner’s poetry the attention it has long deserved. Compellingly written, deeply researched, learned, lucid, funny, and wise, this book is more than a mesmerizing page-turner. It allows us to understand Gardner and her milieu with new specificity and insight. This is one of the very best biographies of a mid-twentieth-century poet yet written.”—Steven Gould Axelrod, author of Sylvia Plath: The Wound and the Cure of Words and coeditor of The New Anthology of American Poetry