Finally, a challenge I think I may actually be able to succeed at! I've been reading a short story (or two) a week fairly regularly since October, and it was in my own reading plans to continue to do so. So when Kate suggested a short story reading challenge I didn't hesitate to sign up. I'd like to read a story a week and five short story collections (last year I read four) this coming year. I'm not entirely sure what I'll read yet. I think I'd rather choose stories at whim depending on my mood. I would like to perhaps read collections by Alice Munro, Margaret Atwood and Jhumpa Lahiri, but nothing is set in stone. This also helped me decide which library book to choose. Mary McCarthy's novel seemed like a good place to start.
The Company She Keeps is an episodic novel. It is made up of six short stories, some of which were previously published in magazines. The book was published in 1942 and centers on the life of one young woman in 1930s Bohemian New York. In the first story, "Cruel and Barbarous Treatment", she is as yet unnamed. Actually not much is revealed about her other than her marriage is disintegrating. She's having an affair with a Young Man, who is also unnamed. Actually nobody is named. I've read that this work is highly autobiographical (perhaps all her work was?), so no doubt names probably can be applied to our narrator, her husband and the Young Man.
"She could not bear to hurt her husband. She impressed this on the Young Man, on her confidantes, and finally on her husband herself. The thought of Telling him actually made her heart turn over in a sudden and sickening way, she said. This was true, and yet she knew that being a potential divorcee was deeply pleasurable in somewhat the same way that being an engaged girl had been."
Thus begins the story. McCarthy's prose is very precise. It took a little getting used to as it's very different than the other books I'm reading at the moment. I can picture McCarthy as being a cool, collected New York intellectual. Very savvy about the place, people and times. And this is also the impression I get from the narrator. Surprisingly everyone is quite dignified when she confesses to her husband about the Young Man. She sort of pits husband against lover and finds them both lacking in the end. She has a fear of being Alone--making up lies if she's not invited to dinner after cocktails--no, no, she already has a prior engagement. Being a Young Divorcee had a certain cachet, however, the term still carried glamour. So off to Reno she goes.
The 1942 New York Times reviewer noted that "one is given varying facets and aspects of the girl's personality as seen from a variety of angles. Only in the final episode are the fragments of her story fitted together into a whole, so that one at last sees Margaret Sargent in the round." Aha, so I'm given a name. I'm very curious to see how Margaret Sargent develops. This is one case that although the story I read can stand on its own, I am wishing to know much more and luckily I've five more stories to read to fit the pieces together.