Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Group

1954, 1964 New American Library edition
Mary McCarthy
The Group
Original price unknown, purchase price 25 cents
Very worn paperback

Despite the title, this novel does not focus equal attention on the eight friends, all Vassar '33, who form The Group.  It begins with Kay's wedding, soon after graduation, and ends seven years later, at her burial.  Her husband Harald is a complete jerk-- pretentious, lazy, and adulterous-- who eventually has her institutionalized after beating her.

But then none of the marriages in the book seem happy, except for Polly and Jim.  Polly and her parents were my favorite characters, although I also liked Helena.  While the book is somewhat well-written, I can't say I enjoyed the majority of it, since it was mostly about unlikable people having bad things happen to them, but not in a fun way.  (Believe me, Schadenfreude can be amusing, even with fiction.)

As in A Proper Marriage, I got most depressed by the regimentation of infancy, the babies being fed on a schedule and left to cry the rest of the time.  I've never had kids but I can't see who it benefited to raise them this way.  I know that this book (like Lessing's novel) is about a pre-Dr.-Spock time, but if a baby was making itself, its mother, and the nurses miserable (the doctors never seem to mind in these novels), what was the point?  Perhaps it's good that McCarthy and Lessing pointed this out, looking back 15 to 20 years, but I don't want to read about it.  It's an abuse of my empathy as a reader.

As for the rest of the Group, they are (in descending order of how much attention they get from the author):
2.  Dottie (whose one-night stand makes her buy contraception, as he misleads her into thinking they'll have an ongoing fling)
3.  Priss (the unhappy wife of a pediatrician, which is why I brought up the regimentation of infancy)
4.  Libby (as pretentious and self-centered as Harald)
5.  Polly (sweet and fairly intelligent, even about romance)
6.  Helena (definitely not enough of her and her wit)
7.  Pokey (I know much more about the family butler than about her)
8.  Lakey (who disappears for most of the book, even though as a Lesbian [always capitalized] living in Italy, she has the most interesting life)

Another similarity to A Proper Marriage is that there are references to politics, but the characters don't really do much to try to change society.  (I haven't mentioned Martha's dabbling in Communism because honestly it's typical of the rest of her passivity and you could hardly call her an "activist.")

The Group was made into a movie after this edition came out, in 1966.  I've never seen it but I'm mildly curious about it, since it has Candice Bergen (as Lakey oddly enough) and Larry Hagman (appropriately playing despicable charmer Harald, although this was years before J.R. and he was still on I Dream of Jeannie).

No comments:

Post a Comment