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The Unpossessed

3.54  ·  Rating Details ·  115 Ratings  ·  17 Reviews
Tess Slesinger's 1934 novel, The Unpossessed details the ins and outs and ups and downs of left-wing New York intellectual life and features a cast of litterateurs, layabouts, lotharios, academic activists, and fur-clad patrons of protest and the arts. This cutting comedy about hard times, bad jobs, lousy marriages, little magazines, high principles, and the morning after ...more
Paperback, New York Review Books Classics, 306 pages
Published August 31st 2002 by NYRB Classics (first published 1934)
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New York Review Books - Classics
236th out of 424 books — 531 voters
The Hobbit by J.R.R. TolkienGone with the Wind by Margaret MitchellBrave New World by Aldous HuxleyOf Mice and Men by John SteinbeckThe Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Best Books of the Decade: 1930s
281st out of 457 books — 818 voters

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Community Reviews

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Apr 12, 2011 Lisa rated it really liked it
Wow, what a bitterly funny, dark book. Very funny in parts, but ultimately pretty dark. It dovetails really weirdly with what I'm doing for a living right now -- researching the history of an intellectual anti-Communist left Little Magazine -- and I'm so immersed in this time period right now that it was like listening to someone talk smack about your family when they didn't think you were listening, if that makes sense.

Slesinger nails the whole Zeitgeist, the pompousness and uber-seriousness of
paulA neves
Jun 20, 2013 paulA neves rated it liked it
I can see how Tess Slesinger was brilliant and all that, but the bottom line is that her experimental narrative technique, the fragmentary recreation of raucous, self-absorbed 1930's New Yorkers, is just plain tedious to get through at times. Although I tend toward character-driven, impressionistic, non-linear narrative myself most of the time, when the style becomes so obvious that it bogs down the pacing (as opposed to the more polished, masterfully organic way it's done by a Virginia Woolf in ...more
Jun 25, 2014 Elizabeth rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2014
This is one of those NYRB Classics that perfectly fits the goals of the series. That is, this book deserves to be reissued and read far more widely than it currently is. Tess Slesinger captures social striving and class dynamics with all of the erudition of Edith Wharton, while also managing to seem thoroughly modern (borderline Joycean at times) in her stylistic sensibilities. Most compelling was the interiority she infuses on male and female characters, alike. I loved how individuals could go ...more
Jan 22, 2016 Melanie rated it really liked it
Shelves: read_on_kindle, nyrb, 2016
The Unpossessed is a darkly funny tale of sniping, snarking left-wing intellectuals, with a satisfyingly modernist zing that comes out in overstuffed party scenes and interior monologues on long boat trips. Comparisons to the work of Dawn Powell and Mary McCarthy are apt, but I think that some of Slesinger's characters (particularly Margaret and the Bruno-Emmett-Elizabeth triangle) are more vivid, their private anguish and public masks more richly drawn, than those of Powell or McCarthy. (Not to ...more
Demisty Bellinger
Apr 01, 2012 Demisty Bellinger rated it it was ok
Shelves: working-class
At times funny, at other times rather depressing, The Unpossessed follows five people, two couples and a single man, through their misadventures in the literary world and in Communism. There are a lot of false starts, lamentable looks back at individual’s pass lives, and sexual—or near sexual—indiscretions. The style of the novel is very cool, reminiscent of movies of the era.
Dec 04, 2008 Karen rated it liked it
Several things happened as I read this book.
1) I couldn’t help but seeing it as a movie
2) I couldn’t help comparing it to the Grapes of Wrath.
3) And once again, I am SO GLAD the women’s movement happened!

Rachel Hope
Apr 24, 2014 Rachel Hope rated it liked it
Marketed as a black comedy, but more black than comedy IMO. A group portrait of a circle of leftist intellectuals, men and women, in Greenwich Village during the Great Depression. Characters based on well-known intellectuals such as Clifton Fadiman & Lionel and Diana Trilling. The narration moves back and forth between different characters' perspectives. I didn't enjoy Slesinger's work the way that I enjoyed Mary McCarthy's The Group. Slesinger's portrait of her milieu is etched in acid. But ...more
Kasa Cotugno
Jun 18, 2010 Kasa Cotugno rated it it was amazing
Every generation sees itself as the arbiter of change, of revolution. Each views itself as the force behind social upheaval, rallying against the conservatism of their predecessors. This is why The Unpossessed is such a revelation. Written 50 years before The Big Chill hit the screens, it presages that exemplar of supposed thwarted idealism and perceived sellout. Tess Slesinger's life was cut short at 39, but in those few years she packed a lot of wisdom and wit. Before moving to Los Angeles she ...more
Jan 02, 2009 Christopher rated it really liked it
There's one point near the end of Unpossessed that reminded me of the NYT article last week about the wife of a Wall Street Powerhouse who continued to drop big bucks regularly at the likes of Hermes while her husband was being called on the carpet in front of Congress while America slides farther into financial doom partly through his titanic doings. Cultural history repeats itself. Every generation has it's intellectual revolutionaries who find themselves in the awkward position of having to j ...more
Jan 28, 2011 D rated it liked it
It's written in a very clever way, really establishing most of the leading characters with their own chapters, and then in the latter part of the book, the author just skips neatly from one characters train of though to another, whilst letting the scene unfold.

Slesinger has written a comedy - which would've made a great film in the hands of Howard Hawkes. Essentially it relies on a rich vain pompous New York socialite, to support a bunch of left wing intellectuals with some money to start a maga
Dec 04, 2015 Peter rated it really liked it
Shelves: nyrb-classics
This 1934 "socialist feminist" novel is a brilliant satire of both the arrogant detachment of the upper class ("Don't speak to me of bravery among your lower classes. I know nothing to compare with Emily Fancher's courage in coming here tonight," says a society matron of the wife of a tycoon who has the "courage" to appear at a society ball just after her husband is sent to prison for embezzlement) and the complete impotence of leftist intellectuals ("Our meetings are masterpieces of postponemen ...more
Robert Wechsler
Apr 11, 2013 Robert Wechsler rated it it was amazing
Shelves: american-lit
Her only novel, published when she was only 29, it is so bright, so playfully and angrily intellectual, so intelligently experimental, so sharp and sensitive, satirical and forgiving and unforgiving. It is a condemnation of the generation older than her, although it seems written by someone much older, and it is certainly not sympathetic to any of the younger. It is dark, and gets darker and darker, especially in terms of intellectuals and the wealthy they depend on, their isolation mentally, ph ...more
Katherine Kendig
Oct 14, 2015 Katherine Kendig rated it it was amazing
Very, very smart; very well written; and thoroughly depressing. Social satire with enough emotional depth to carry a novel and enough bite to leave you bleeding without any attempt at a bandage.
Ellen Locker
May 10, 2014 Ellen Locker rated it really liked it
The Party chapter was really good.
The ending wasn't what I expected.
Also liked the lines "Pigs!" "Pigs are happy."
I'm not sure what to say about this book, it was different than anything I've read and it was a very bitter portrait, though sharply funny at times. I'm going to go back and read Elaine Showalter's take on it.
Wils Cain
Dec 24, 2008 Wils Cain rated it it was amazing
The way this story told is beautiful. I feel like I really got to know the characters and would love to frame a couple of the chapters, just beautiful! I couldn't read this fast enough and now I want more.
Gayla Bassham
Apr 13, 2011 Gayla Bassham rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2011-reads
I just didn't like this book--too bitter and too dated. Neither of those qualities are faults, necessarily, but I still didn't like it.
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