The Uncomfortable Honesty of Mary McCarthy

Mary_McCarthy2B. D. McClay at Commonweal:

Mary McCarthy had a famous smile, but it didn’t help her much. Usually a smile is a sign of friendliness, attraction, general sociability. But not Mary’s. Her smile was known to be a trap and a weapon, a “long, white upper blade of handsome, emphatic teeth,” as one reporter put it in Esquire. “She can smoke through it, argue through it, spill the beans through it, even smile through it.” You couldn’t trust it. You couldn’t trust her.

The Mary of the switchblade smile is the one we remember. Her legacy has been her scandals: the libel suit after calling Lillian Hellman a liar, her frank writing about sex, her habit of putting her friends in her novels, her leave-nothing-out memoirs. She was a “cold and beautiful novelist who devoured three husbands and a crowd of lovers in the course of a neatly managed career,” according to Simone de Beauvoir, who should know, one supposes.

And yet, here we are: Mary McCarthy has elbowed her way into posterity and arrives to take her place in the Library of America. This inclusion of her novels in the series would surprise a good many of her peers.

more here.