cover image Sharp: The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion

Sharp: The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion

Michelle Dean. Grove, $26 (384p) ISBN 978-0-8021-2509-5

Few readers could fail to be impressed by both the research behind and readability of this first book by Dean, a journalist and critic. In it, she explores the lives and work of women writers of the 20th century, including Hannah Arendt, Janet Malcolm, Dorothy Parker, and Susan Sontag. She covers a dozen women, all considered “sharp” for their intelligence and insight, but also in that they were considered—particularly by male counterparts—cutting and threatening. Dean, fortunately, doesn’t keep these talented women in their own boxes, but shows many of them intersecting in the same intellectual circles, interacting and commenting—sometimes bitingly, sometimes supportingly—on each other’s work. Dean provides concise synopses and comparisons of their ideas and has an eye for similarities: both Mary McCarthy and Joan Didion, for example, objected to what they saw as J.D. Salinger’s triviality. The book has a few glitches—a short section on Zora Neale Hurston, for example, doesn’t quite mesh with the rest. Taken as a whole, however, this is a stunning and highly accessible introduction to a group of important writers. Agent: Gary Morris, David Black Agency. (Apr.)