A Likely Story: One Summer with Lillian Hellman

Rosemary Mahoney, Author Doubleday Books $23.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-385-47793-2
The tribulations suffered by a 17-year-old girl working for a stubborn, acerbic 73-year-old woman may sound like a potential whine-fest. But when the narrator is a writer as gifted as Mahoney, and the older woman is none other than Lillian Hellman, the story becomes a compelling chronicle not only of an intergenerational combat of will and manners, but also of that terrible, wavering period of late adolescence when nothing is certain, and frustrations are legion. Although not at all domestic, Mahoney jumped at a chance to be Hellman's ""part-time live-in housekeeper."" But Martha's Vineyard became Mahoney's Omaha Beach, as she battles to keep emotionally intact. Less interesting is a tendency for the author to overwrite, often resorting to a repetitive excess of detail--e.g., there's only so much of the rather ghastly descriptions of Hellman's yellow buck teeth, failing, fishlike eyes and pallid sagging skin the reader can stand. The condescension that Mahoney occasionally displayed in the NBCC-finalist Whoredom in Kimmage is still here, although since it's directed at Hellman and a few pompous individuals, it's more understandable. More deeply affecting than Hellman's shocking tantrums and relentless egomania are Mahoney's recollections of her own childhood. These describe the heartrending struggle of a caring, devoted child for a hopelessly dysfunctional mother. Her memories, reflecting on how Nora Mahoney's awful desperation was countered by her wit, humanity and passion, create a telling juxtaposition with the detestable self-absorption and pettiness of the sniping, spoiled Hellman. First serial to Vanity Fair and Elle. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 11/02/1998
Release date: 11/01/1998
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 288 pages - 978-0-385-47931-8
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