Rotten Reviews: Doris Grumbach on Mary McCarthy

“On television I see Mary McCarthy taking about her Vassar friend, the poet Elizabeth Bishop. I notice Mary’s instant icy smile, so often present when I interviewed her in Paris in 1966 for a book. George Grosz saw the same smile on Lenin’s face. ‘It doesn’t mean a smile,’ he said. I am fascinated by it. It represents, I think, an unsuccessful attempt to soften a harsh, bluntly stated judgement. Last summer, twenty-two years after the book I wrote about her, which she so disliked, appeared, I encountered Mary for the first time in an outdoor market in Blue Hill.

 ‘Hello Mary,’ I said. ‘Do you remember me?’

 Her smile flashed and then, like a worn-out bulb, disappeared instantly.

 ‘Unfortunately,’ she said.

 It didn’t mean a smile.”

 Doris Grumbach

Excerpted from: Barnard, Andre, and Bill Henderson, eds. Pushcart’s Complete Rotten Reviews and Rejections. Wainscott, NY: Pushcart Press, 1998.   

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