Laura Tanenbaum at Open Letters Monthly:
“Writers are what they write, and also what they fail to write.” So Diana Trilling, book critic and author, wrote in her memoir. Natalie Robins, author of the first full-length biography of Trilling, spends a good deal of time on Trilling’s false starts: the unfinished, unpublished, and abandoned works that, like many writers, she often saw as her realest and most important. Robins begins the book by recounting the story of a fight between Diana and her husband Lionel when they were newlyweds. Diana was enraged when Lionel called a play she had written with a college friend “a vulgar babble.” Lionel responded by throwing his favorite pipe out the fifth-floor window.
Lionel called his one novel The Middle of the Journey; Diana called her memoir about her marriage The Beginning of the Journey. By titling her biography The Untold Journey, Robins suggests that she will fill in what Diana could not or would not write. In particular, she frequently evokes what she could or would not say during her marriage to Lionel, because of his rages and because of the complicated ways he both could and could not see her as an equal. And yet Robins’s book maintains some of the same distances and evasions; she doesn’t shy away from the more unflattering aspects of Diana’s life but she doesn’t know quite what to make of them, as if she herself feared being on the wrong end of Diana’s famously withering prose.