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Art and Madness: A Memoir of Lust Without Reason Hardcover – Deckle Edge, March 15, 2011
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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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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
Top customer reviews
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. Here's quote from the book that helps give perspective, "It is to escape the rotting that I go to George Plimpton's parties. Artists and writers and their molls don't decay. They explode, perhaps, which is much better."
Roiphe barely got through the decade of her twenties with her sanity intact. Not that she was unstable but many around her were and that made the ground seem unsteady. She finally does find love and best of all she returns to her lifelong desire to write. In my opinion that's a wonderful thing for us. This was my introduction to her work and I'll definitely be reading more of her work.
If you want to read a memoir, read Inga Clendinnen or Mary Karr. Don't waste your time on this slow, boring slog.
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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