“We all live in suspense from day to day; in other words,
we are the hero of our own story.”
“The suspense of a novel is not only in the reader, but in the novelist, who is intensely curious about what will happen to the hero.”
“I am putting real plums into an imaginary cake.”
Here’s what happened Recently: I pulled a book from a pile in my bedroom which happened to have an adoring essay by Elizabeth Hardwick About the writer Mary McCarthy. Then, while browsing among the books in his mother’s house the very next day, my husband David happened to pull out a book about…you guessed it: Mary McCarthy! It was How I Grew — her account of her early childhood, which had actually been mentioned in the essay I’d just read. Amazing coincidence? Miracle? Message from the universe? Perhaps all three?
I’m not sure, but in any case, I felt compelled to pursue Mary online. Fascinating woman. Free spirit. Widely admired writer. Sharp wit. She was all this and more. Here’s what Irvin Stock, a critic, said of her novels: “each has so much life and truth, and is written in a prose so spare, vigorous, and natural … yet at the same time [is] so witty, graceful, and, in a certain way, poetic….”
Dipping into an “Art of Fiction” interview with Mary in the Paris Review, 1962, I came across this gem of a comment she made: .
“I’ve never liked the conventional conception of ‘style.’ What’s confusing is that style usually means some form of fancy writing—when people say, oh yes, so and so’s such a ‘wonderful stylist.’ But if one means by style the voice, the irreducible and always recognizable and alive thing, then of course style is really everything. It’s what you find in Stendhal, it’s what you find in Pasternak. The same thing you find in a poet—the sound of, say, Donne’s voice. In a sense, you can’t go further in an analysis of Donne than to be able to place this voice, in the sense that you recognize Don Giovanni by the voice of Don Giovanni.”
I love this Mary’s description of style as “the voice, the irreducible and always recognizable and alive thing” — that says it all, doesn’t it — and so directly and succinctly. I must confess, I’ve never read her most popular novel, The Group, but my interest has been piqued and I’m going to take a look. I have no idea why, but I think it’s no accident that I attracted Mary and she attracted me. I think she has something to show me, something to teach me. Has this ever happened to you?
Have you ever stumbled across a writer who turned out to enrich your understanding and craft? If so, please let me know. And let’s make sure we pay attention when the universe drops something unexpected in our laps. Write on!