HELLMAN ON EARTH
Lillie: Beminlscences of Lillian Hellman Peter Feibleman (Chatto & Windmill-1.95). Who would be Peter Feibleman when he crosses the Styx? Waiting for him. in a Blackglama mink. fag in hand. is a raddled dame with a score to settle. Twenty-five years ahead of him. Lillian Hellman. cradle-snatcher and celebrated playwright. took the same trip. tongue-whipping her nurses, a three-year hate affair with Mary McCarthy still unconsummated in court. She made him her literary executor. and left him her house in Martha’s Vineyard. half her royalties for life. and a stash ofcash. She also wrote a note. hoping he‘d concentrate on novels. You can understand why. Feibleman - so well-named — purports to tell the truth. so help him God. but he should have taken the Fifth Amendment. Before. only his subject was indicted; now he takes
the rap as an accessory to her
PA WITH SLIPPERY HANDS
Daddy We Hardly Knew You Germaine
‘ Greer(Hamish Hamilton£13.95).
Unforgivingness. Gee Gee informed the Grauniad‘s Terry Coleman, is a family trait. When her grandfather had a heart attack he was left unconscious in his car for two days, with his face against the steering wheel. Told he was dying. his wife was asked ifshe‘d like to go and say goodbye. ‘I haven‘t spoken to him for forty years.‘ she said. ‘and I see no reason for starting now.’
Anecdotal animus propels this impertinent biography which trundles along for 300 plus pages like a jalopy with a broken exhaust. Its plaintive. pommy-whingeing title is not what we expect from she who was wont to wear a clapped out diaphragm as a bracelet. Self-indulgence. however. comes courtesy of middle-age and a fat advance from a publisher who, having backed a mad woman to sluice her ancestral undies in public. must have had second thoughts as Reginald ‘Daddy‘ Greer proved to be as eel-like as Lord Lucan. There are less twists in Dickens than in this genealogical tale. The reasons for not reading it are many, but it‘s worth persevering. For who would have thought that halfthe great emancipator‘s genes came from an office groper?
Detail of head on the Royal Faculty of Procurators Building. West George Street. Glasgow. From Glasgow Revealed published by Heritage Books (Scotland) at £6.95.
Willie: The Life of W. Somerset Maugham Robert Calder (Heinemann £15) Three short years have elapsed since Ted Morgan‘s Somerset Maugham thumped on the mat but Robert Calder isn’t making
' excuses. The world needs his dumpy
supplement because Morgan ’5 Maugham (sic) ‘reveals an essential distaste for its subject, which casts almost everything in the darkest light.’ Forget the malicious, bitter. and spiteful misanthrope, he pleads. and recognise ‘his sensitivity. loyalty, and numerous kindnesses to many people.‘
The truth probably lies somewhere in between. But who cares? Maugham is little read these days
- .-. ..4i‘1l-'«?:'t't." if" and rightly so: his yarns on - re-reading rattle like loose windows.
An artisan not an artist, he was a
second-rater who was well-rewarded for his discipline. This mechanical. near humourless life does nothing to change that view but at least it has unearthed Roderick O'Conor‘s description of Maugham as ‘a bed—bug on which a sensitive man refuses to stamp because of the smell and the squashiness.‘
Mary McCarthy: A Life Carol Gelderman (Sidgwiek and Jackson £15). In 1918 more people died of flu than in the carnage of WW1 . Among them were Mary McCarthy‘s parents. She and her brothers were farmed out to a great-uncle and aunt who taped their mouths at night for fear of catching germs. Her childhood was not happy. But she was precocious (and promiscuous) and went to Vassar. where promise matured into bile which she spat at the nation‘s critics. berating them in a series of articles for inflating second-rate talent. Her name was made. She married four times. her second husband being Edmund Wilson. an ace critic and wife-beater. You can‘t have everything.
As a novelist her reputation is not as high as it was. As an essayist. she is still provocative even if her judgements seem perverse. As a stylist. she is sublime. Which makes her choice of biographer all the more
EAST SIDE STORY
‘Love Me Tender' used to be a sickly ballad by Elvis Presley, now it’s the title of a ‘Downtown novel' by Catherine Texier, in itself a term borrowed yet again from another, more upbeat lyric by Petula Clark about fabulous places inside a city that never closes, where all the lights are bright But clearly, they're not, unless you’re passing through. ForTexier‘s America is principally a New York on the Lower East Side, where bright means harsh or neon-sleazy, and the shades of every apartment are pulled down because womb darkness is preferable to an eclipse oi the sun. So this twilight
zone, a perfect middle ground between ,
urban surrealism and unfocused desire, becomes the treacherous medium through which the female characters in her novel — chiefly Lulu, a French dancer with zero prospects — operate. They’re independent, semi-amoral creatures who, nevertheless, succeed only in fucking themselves into a tighter corner. Sex is something they engage in frequently to pass the time not already spent dreaming of what it might be like ifthey were elsewhere, or if it meant something; if it didn’t turn out to be just a joyless exchange of bodily fluids, and maybe a deadly one at that.
Pre-AIDS promiscuity is the current
catchline, since Love Me Tender was written back in 1984-85. But to people grimly in search of love, as Lulu is, the disease still isn't real enough to call it off. There are, afterall, nightmares equally as rancid within the parameters of that same street- a switchblade, a maniac, lnslpidlty, death by negligence. Thus the word ‘tender‘ functions throughout the text as a subliminal and lonesome request from a girl too smart to be pure while she looks around, too sensitive to settle for the insularity of what Texler calls ‘a straight life’. Lulu’s crotch instincts take her where they will —to Julian the junkie poet, Henrythe
high-rise fat cat, and Mario the dealer with sad macho drawbacks. These are the fragments of that love, however trite, that is asked for unconditionally. Texier’s prose reflects this anxiety, twisting and jerking from scene to dream, drama to dialogue, bulletin to concept, as if the ground beneath it might get too hot if it remained there, or too cold, for that matter.
Naturally, this is the point where rock ’n’ roll enters, the rhythms of which Texier has sucked into her style to tap the core of neurosis, the moans and whispers of inhabitants within a culture on trial for its lack of emotion. ‘I wrote it', she admits, on an author tour of Britain, ‘to the music of the beat’. Like Lulu herself, who scissors strange news items to form part of an even stranger dossier, Texlertoo is ‘collecting evidence’. None of it’s pleasant, nor should it be.
Where Love Me Tender differs appreciably from the popular Manhattan syndrome, as bitterly championed in recent books by Jay Mclnerney and Tama Janowitz, is in its refusal to adopt displacement as a strictly alternative voice; anxiety pinned back by coke spoons and smoking orifices. Deliberately, but without malice, Texier leaves her characters open to the bone. ‘You want to explore parts of yourself', she explains, ‘that are uncomfortable. l
like to do that, you know, the places where it hurts’. If the result is fashionably brutal up to a point, it’s because pain has almost erased faith altogether.
Priorto this, she co-wrote a book on prostitution, launching herself into the project in a feminist mood and emerging with that frame of mind intact. ‘They’re no different from housewives’, she says, ‘and they know it. They’re aware of their economic situation, and they take risks with their lives. I'm intrigued by that. I'm not interested in writing about people who live in a very safe way.’
So far France, her native country, has not agreed to publish Love Me Tender, arguing that its time is not now, perhaps later. Texier seems unimpressed by that. She wears tortoise-shell glasses and speaks without a trace of a French accent. She's easy to talk to, yet considers
questions carefully. ‘I don‘t live the life of my characters’, she told me, just in case. For these are strange days for journalism also. One minute, you're a novelist on tour. assisting the sales of a book primarily about sex. its smells and juices, as a more or less hopeless yet vital means of communication. The next, you're a pervert with blue
§ wing-tips. (Chris Lloyd) . i Love Me Tender is published by Grafton i Books at£3.99.
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The l.i\l T Ill April WSW 57