By Women Possessed: A Life of Eugene O’Neill

Arthur and Barbara Gelb. Putnam, $50 (896p) ISBN 978-0-399-15911-4
Comprehensive is a word frequently used to describe meticulous biographies, but it doesn’t manage to evoke the level of detail in the Gelbs’ third book on the life of legendary playwright Eugene O’Neill. In the book, which includes a staggering 74 pages of endnotes, the Gelbs analyze O’Neill’s life from a different standpoint than in O’Neill and O’Neill: Life with Monte Cristo: that of his tumultuous relationships with three wives, most notably his third, Carlotta Monterey. Though the authors find time to touch on O’Neill’s second marriage in an extended flashback (a bit confusing, given that the entire book is written in the present tense) and his complex history with his mother, his quarter-century with Carlotta dominates the text—years filled with alcoholic relapses and bitter antagonism. The authors shed new light on one especially terrifying night near the end of O’Neill’s life using previously unpublished diary entries. This is a compelling examination of one of the 20th century’s most passionate and troubled minds, and a prime example of expert, diligent, and wryly editorial biographical research. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 08/22/2016
Release date: 11/01/2016
Genre: Nonfiction
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