Art and Madness—A Memoir of Lust Without Reason
By Anne Roiphe. Foreword by Katie Roiphe. (Nan A. Talese, Doubleday)
Art and Madness is maddening, all right. It’s the kind of memoir which is so self-absorbed that it ignores some very basic needs of the form, like times and places and surnames and, you know, a point.
Granted, Anne Roiphe doesn’t particularly care to recall this part of her life. She ends the book thus:
I meet Carol Southern, long divorced from Terry, at a party on Fifth Avenue, the home of a musician and his painter wife. Carol and I looked at each other. We shared memories that need not be spoken. “Do you regret it?” I say. “No,” she says, “I loved every moment of it. I would do it again.” She smiles her radiant and gentle smile. She is telling me the truth. I, on the other hand, would never do it again. Never.”
Not a rousing recommendation for a good read about the New York art and lit scene in the ‘60s. No wonder the dust-jacket blurb, which describes Roiphe as “one of the girls draped across sofas at parties with George Plimpton, Terry Southern, Doc Humes, Norman Mailer, Peter Matthiessen and William Styron,” is drawn not from Anne Roiphe’s prose but paraphrased from her daughter Katie’s considerably jauntier introduction to this morose book. Roiphe fille notes that Roiphe mere has previously written at great length about virtually every aspect of her life except this era, and the reluctance is palapable on every page. Instead of, say, trying to figure out how some of these admittedly uncomfortable experiences as the devoted wife of Obie-winning playwright Jack Richardson might have shaped her later feminist philosophies, Roiphe just relates indignity upon indignity without useful elaboration.
Frankly, I’m not her target audience. I was looking for insights into Terry Southern (whom part of me idolizes despite his some monumental flaws in his own character) and Richardson, and Jack Gelber and E.L. Doctorow. (Other names judiciously dropped in the book include Arthur Miller, Norman Mailer and William Buckley—or at least Buckley’s sisters, who led a campaign to fire two art teachers at Smith College for being Communists). The memoir is so unencumbered by dates, locations or other crucial context that they add nothing to the scholarship of this time. Terry Southern, for instance is mentioned late in the book as “in California with some lady, I am sure, or perhaps his only lady is the dope he has begun to sell along the coast or so I am told.”
Honestly—“Or so I am told”?! If that satisfies any potential libel lawyers, it certainly doesn’t satisfy readers uninterested in bitter recriminations and scurrilous hearsay. And this from a person who carries herself as being above this rabble.
Art and Madness fails as a footnote to history, but it also fails a personal reflection, too disjointed and defensive to add up to a fluid account of Anne Roiphe’s youth, the turbulent ‘60s, the New York literary crowd, art, madness or anything else.