cover image Pleasure of Their Company CL

Pleasure of Their Company CL

Doris Grumbach. Beacon Press (MA), $22 (160pp) ISBN 978-0-8070-7222-6

""We see only what we look for in need,"" notes novelist and memoirist Grumbach, quoting Roger Fry at the end of this new collection of meditations on, among other things, turning 80. While Fry was commenting on the human ability to experience art, Grumbach's concern is our ability to remember and appreciate life. In her recent memoirs (Extra Innings, etc.) and meditation daybooks (Life in a Day, etc.), Grumbach has turned from fiction to highly personalized, often idiosyncratic ruminations on the past and on the role of prayer and contemplation in everyday life. Here, she combines the two forms to produce a provocative, beautifully crafted personal history and meditation on death. Remembrances of friends who have died--Kay Boyle, Dorothy Day, May Sarton--mix with a nostalgia for the past without becoming sentimental or dogmatically traditional. Grumbach's stories and observations are always unusual and astute: she recounts being sexually assaulted by Bertrand Russell, wonders about the propriety of Gordon Lish's intrusive editing techniques and notes May Sarton's feat of ""projecting a noble, unselfish... generous and warm-hearted public persona, entirely unlike her true self."" After reading this slim volume, readers will be convinced that Grumbach's private self is as intelligent and generous as her public persona. (May)