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Luminous and intensely personal, Art and Madness recounts the lost years of Anne Roipheâ€™s twenties, when the soon-to-be-critically-acclaimed author put her dreams of becoming a writer on hold to devote herself to the magnetic but coercive male artists of the period.
Coming of age in the 1950s, Roiphe, the granddaughter of Jewish immigrants, grew up on Park Avenue and had an adolescence defined by privilege, petticoats, and social rules. At Smith College her classmates wore fraternity pins on their cashmere sweaters and knit argyle socks for their boyfriends during lectures. Young women were expected to give up personal freedom for devotion to home and children. Instead, Roiphe chose Beckett, Proust, Sartre, and Mann as her heroes and sought out the chaos of New Yorkâ€™s White Horse Tavern and West End Bar.
She was unmoored and uncertain, â€œwaiting for a wisp of truth, a featherâ€™s brush of beauty, a moment of insight.â€ Salvation came in the form of a brilliant playwright whom she married and worked to support, even after he left her alone on their honeymoon and later pawned her family silver, china, and pearls. Her near-religious belief in the power of art induced her to overlook his infidelity and alcoholism, and to dutifully type his manuscripts in place of writing her own.
During an era that idolized its male writers, she became, sometimes with her young child in tow, one of the girls draped across the sofa at parties with George Plimpton, Terry Southern, Doc Humes, Norman Mailer, Peter Matthiessen, and William Styron. In the Hamptons she socialized with Larry Rivers, Jack Gelber and other painters and sculptors. â€œModeration for most of us is a most unnatural condition . . . . I preferred to burn out like a brilliant firecracker.â€ But while she was playing the muse reality beckoned, forcing her to confront the notion that any sacrifice was worth making for art.
Art and Madness recounts the fascinating evolution of a time when art and alcohol and rebellion caused collateral damage and sometimes produced extraordinary work. In clear-sighted, perceptive, and unabashed prose, Roiphe shares with astonishing honesty the tumultuous adventure of self-discovery that finally led to her redemption.
Art and Madness is an extremely puzzling memoir. Itâ€™s almost as if the author wrote this book all in one shot and scribbled down the memories as they came to her. Mind you, I enjoy books with broken chronology, but this particular memoir is very difficult to follow. I also had a tough time sympathizing with the author; she seemed to be the typical self-absorbed, rebellious teenager who didnâ€™t appreciate what she had and longed to live the life of someone much less privileged than herself. What I can say for this memoir is that Roiphe did just that; she carried out her rebellious duties to the fullest and later wrote this book about how terrible her life was. At the end of the memoir, Roiphe states that if she could do it all over again, she wouldnâ€™t. Coincidentally, if I could request this book all over again, I wouldnâ€™t.
Book Rating: 2/5
Book Received From: Doubleday for Review
Reviewer: Brittany for Book Sake
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