BACK THEN: Two Lives in 1950s New York
Bernays's first date with Kaplan was over lunch. Glancing at the menu, Kaplan recommended the calf's brains and Bernays made a split-second decision: "I could never marry a man who ate brains for lunch—or, as far as that went, for any other meal." But the not-yet-prestigious writers (he went on to win a Pulitzer for Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain; she has written eight well-received novels) did marry, and they have collaborated on this double memoir recounting their remarkably parallel lives in 1950s New York City. Both grew up in well-to-do Jewish families, she on Manhattan's Upper East Side, he on the Upper West Side; both went away to college, majored in English and returned to New York to work in publishing. What makes this book successful is the way both writers capture the diverse sounds and sense of various subcultures in the city: bohemian, literary, Jewish, upper-crust, etc. They alternate chapters, and both writers have entirely distinct voices and styles of writing: Bernays's chapters are narrative driven, personal and filled with anecdote, while Kaplan maintains a certain distance from the subject at hand (that is, himself), offering character sketches of his colleagues and associates. Though the couple eventually leaves New York, the book serves as a hymn to the city of their youth: "Still relatively restrained in style, and with as yet only a subdominant glitter, chic, and Babylonian arrogance." Well written and thoughtful, this memoir gives a nice flavor of urban cultural life in the 1950s. B&w photos. (May 28)
Forecast:New Yorkers and denizens of the literary and publishing worlds will love this, and it will be widely reviewed. Expect excellent sales in New York City, and good sales among literati in other urban locales.
Release date: 06/01/2002