Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Group by Mary McCarthy

I finished reading Mary McCarthy’s The Group over the weekend and I have to say that it is one of those books that will stay with me for a long time to come.

It follows eight graduates of the exclusive American college for women – Vassar – as they find their places in life. Except for the fact that The Group is set in the 1930s (and written in the ‘60s), you could almost be mistaken into thinking that it is set in modern day New York, which just goes to show that the issues that women face has changed very little (careers, relationships, marriage).

Kay, Dottie, Pokey, Polly, Libby, Priss, Lakey and Helen are very different women and although most of them share a solid friendship with the others, some relationships are rather more tenuous and their very existence speaks more to university’s ability to bring together people from very different economic and social classes, who might not otherwise meet or become friends.

The book doesn’t pull any punches at all and deals quite frankly with issues of sex, marriage, infidelity, motherhood, ambition, rape, mental illness, death and even sexual orientation. It might seem too much for one book, but with each chapter focusing on aspects of each woman’s life, it never feels overwhelming or less than believable, because you get pulled into the character’s life and worldview.

The book starts off with Kay’s wedding and ends seven years later at a funeral and during that time, the friends have matured and lost some of their post-college shiny-eyed idealism. In her foreword, Candace Bushnell writes: “As Vassar graduates, the women of The Group believe they will change the world. What they discover is that not only can they not change the world, but their survival still depends on their acceptance of being ‘the second sex.’” To put it concisely – reality bites!

I liked this book because it explored many issues that are dominant in my life – and every other woman. I also enjoyed it, because I could see myself in one or more of the characters (I identified most with Polly).

It wasn’t a quick read for me, because it was dense with description, which did not lend itself to reading within the odd 10 or 15 minutes that I could snatch during my days and nights. Rather, The Group is the type of book that you want to devote a few hours to, settled in a comfortable chair.

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