Janet, My Mother, and Me: A Memoir of Growing Up with Janet Flanner and Natalia Danesi Murray

William Murray, Author
William Murray, Author Simon & Schuster $24 (320p) ISBN 978-0-684-80966-3
Reviewed on: 01/31/2000
Release date: 02/01/2000
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When Janet Flanner, the New Yorker's Paris correspondent from 1925 to 1975, met Natalia Danesi Murray, who was to become her lover of 38 years, Flanner's wit was so radiant that even Natalia's son, who was 14 in 1940, ""lingered for nearly an hour just to be around her."" Intertwined with Murray's memorable portrait of the two women is his own gently self-deprecating coming of age story. He emerges as a lusty, headstrong young fellow, forever resisting his deeply possessive Italian mother, yet profoundly shaped by her and the cultured life they shared. Pursuing what became a dead-end career as an opera singer, he found in Flanner both an ally who tempered his mother's persistent criticism and ""a sort of surrogate father."" His admiration for Flanner's writing was a beacon that lit his path: he became a New Yorker staff writer for 30 years and the author of numerous novels (A Fine Italian Hand, etc.) and plays. Murray's descriptions of Flanner's often piercing insecurities and her devotion to her work are fascinating and inspiring; his less loving portrait of New Yorker editor William Shawn adds chiaroscuro. Drawing on Flanner's hauntingly articulate letters to Natalia, who assumed a succession of broadcasting, film and publishing positions in Italy as well as New York, Murray deftly conveys the interplay of passion, need and resolute independence that brought out the best and worst in their long-distance relationship. Although Murray's portrait of Flanner is crisper than that of his mother-perhaps due to the loss of Natalia's letters as well as her son's lingering ambivalence-this is a stirring account of the mature and enduring love between a mother, her lover and her son. (Feb.)
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