cover image Carson McCullers: A Life

Carson McCullers: A Life

Mary V. Dearborn. Knopf, $40 (512p) ISBN 978-0-525-52101-3

Biographer Dearborn (Ernest Hemingway) delivers a penetrating portrait of Southern novelist Carson McCullers (1917–1967) as a brilliant but difficult writer whose life was marred by alcoholism and illness, which began with an untreated strep throat infection she contracted sometime before age 20 that precipitated a series of strokes throughout her life. Dearborn describes how McCullers’s mother believed her daughter was destined for greatness even before she was born, a prophecy that came true after McCullers’s first novel, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, was released to critical acclaim when she was just 23. Calling queerness “Carson’s defining trait as an artist,” Dearborn delves into McCullers’s tumultuous romantic life, which included getting married at age 19 to Reeve McCullers, with whom she maintained an on-and-off relationship as she pursued “older, more worldly women who sometimes returned her affection but who... seldom wanted the passionate physical relationship she sought.” Dearborn provides astute psychological insight into McCullers, describing her as a headstrong if “needy” writer who demanded “constant expressions of love,” and offers a tender depiction of her close friendship with Tennessee Williams, whom she met after he wrote her a letter of admiration and who helped take care of her after her second stroke left her partially paralyzed. This skillful biography satisfies. Photos. Agent: Georges Borchardt, Georges Borchardt, Inc. (Feb.)