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Memoirs of Hecate County

3.77  ·  Rating Details ·  189 Ratings  ·  28 Reviews
Hecate is the Greek goddess of sorcery, and Edmund Wilson's Hecate County is the bewitched center of the American Dream, a sleepy bedroom community where drinks flow endlessly and sexual fantasies fill the air. Memoirs of Hecate County, Wilson's favorite among his many books, is a set of interlinked stories combining the supernatural and the satirical, astute social observ ...more
Mass Market Paperback, 411 pages
Published June 1967 by Ballantine Books, Inc. (first published 1942)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Jenna
5 stars for "The Princess With the Golden Hair," a cruelly realistic novella about the "doomed" relationship between a working-class woman and the upper-middle-class man who claims to love her and yet can't conceive of marrying her. (I put the word "doomed" in quotation marks because this decidedly is not a story about fate or star-crossedness; rather, it's a story about socioeconomic pressures and the people who lack the means or the moral courage to stand up to them.) Despite the explicit desc ...more
Tim
Jan 05, 2015 Tim rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I had been looking forward to reading this book, mostly because Frederick Exley had sung its praises in his writing, and because it is Wilson's favorite among his works. And his works are no minor achievement, including among them some truly brilliant essays and nonfiction. He was perhaps the leading American critic of his time, and a well-known personality. So given that, I have to see this mixed bag of fiction (and possibly fictionalized memoir) as something of a disappointment.

This book conta
...more
Matt
Dec 04, 2014 Matt rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a fairly enjoyable, interesting read. The book consists of a series of six inter-related stories, having to do with the goings-on in the life of the central character. First published in 1946, it is one of those rather intriguing works that deal with literature, art, politics, and sexual mores in a manner where all of these things influence each other. This is a book where characters talk about Marxism, and the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, and the reading of the Daily Worker, where t ...more
Nils
Feb 16, 2008 Nils rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: All
"But now I even found myself seeing Imogen as the splendid embodiment of a type that I had not supposed I cared for but for which an undeveloped desire must always have been buried in the subsoil of my mind: the type of the American beauty. This ideal, which had figured in my childhood, in the pictures in magazines, as challenging and piquant but chaste, had bloomed later into something more sensual, with arched eyebrows and kiss-provoking lips, with deep eyes which, though still eyes of good fe ...more
Amanda
Dec 29, 2009 Amanda rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The main issue with this book is that there is a perfectly terrific novella stuffed in the middle of several increasingly insane short stories. I sort of wish the book was just the novella and his shorter works had been put somewhere else. The narrator is 'unknowable' and thus the short stories could all be narrated by him or by different people; either way they're all douche lords. Generally the book left me feeling that I had to read a whole lot of not-so-terrific drivel to get to the good par ...more
Mark
Aug 16, 2007 Mark rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I read this to get some Edmund Wilson under my belt, and because I understood this was his favorite work. In this series of almost unlinked novelettes, I know it was "The Princess with the Golden Hair" that got all the attention at the time and led to a court ruling that the work was obscene, but I hardly remember that piece at all. The one that stuck with me was the drawing-room tension of "The Man Who Shot Snapping Turtles." Wilson's stories may be classics, but they're also very pessimistic a ...more
John Everett
Jan 10, 2010 John Everett rated it liked it
Bogged down a bit towards the end with six or so pages of solid French (a fine language, but a bit pretentious as a literary device); a bit like running into Tolstoy's 25-page essay on the motive force of history at the end of War and Peace. Otherwise, pretty darn good.
Paul Jellinek
A risque classic from the 1930's that, despite some bright spots here and there, did not live up to its billing. Overheated and over-rated.
Bryant
This may have been Wilson's favorite among his own books, but it wouldn't be mine. Sometimes I think I'm a bit too trusting of what NYReview Books brings out.
Bill FromPA
#10 for Back to the Classics Challenge 2016: A classic which has been banned or censored.

I first became aware that this was a "banned book" when I came across the following advertisement in the back of the 1964 Signet paperback of The Group:
MEMOIRS OF HECATE COUNTY by Edmund Wilson
Six stories present the manners and morals of U.S. suburban life in unsparingly satirical prose by one of America's foremost critics. (Not for sale in New York State.) (#T2004 - 75¢)
The story of its banning is told a
...more
Adobe
Jan 14, 2017 Adobe rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
A collection of short stories dusted with ghosts, devils, and the stultifying ambience of 1930s upstate New York. Most of the stories in Memoirs of Hecate County are arranged along the same design: a banal situation is touched by the supernatural, dread begins to seep through the story, and an eerie climax recapitulates the protagonist's central banal dilemma. A woman begins receding through time to justify her birth; a demon leaps in and out of unsuspecting heads; the devil strikes a bargain wi ...more
Michael Armijo
Nov 02, 2010 Michael Armijo rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A Literary FIND that won't be for everyone...

On Christmas Day 2001 I was in San Francisco when I began reading this literary collection of six interrelated novelettes. I learned of the book while reading 'THE SCARLET PROFESSOR--Arvin Newton'. I was anxious to read it because the book was banned in 1947 because of its heatedly debated subject matter of descriptive sex, adultery, venereal disease and a mixture of the upper and lower class values of the time. My dear friend, Gloria Weiner-Freiman-C
...more
Matt
May 30, 2013 Matt rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I would totally love to read a 33 1/3rd style book about the writing and reception of this very mixed book.

I was crazy about the first three stories in the book, the kind of detached social critique stories. I felt that the middle novella, The Princess with the Golden Hair, tried too hard to make something interesting out of the weird boring position of being the middle class white guy and his delicate soul quivering. I don't know if that novella is classist or racist, but it's certainly weird.
...more
Yarb
Jul 25, 2016 Yarb rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: your-library
A set of six tales with a common narrator and all situated in New England and New York. I liked the use of fantasy, restrained to the extent that it becomes realistic, mirrors those few moments of genuine oddness that we all seem to experience in our lives. There is magic here, but it's momentary, and leaves the characters guessing and second guessing long after we leave them. "Ellen Terhune" is I guess the most avowedly supernatural story, but its time-shifting spookery is handled so adroitly a ...more
Peter
Apr 06, 2015 Peter rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There's some clunkiness and some moments when it feels as if Wilson has slipped from author to critic, but this collection of stories, tied together by a shared narrator and setting, are totally worthwhile for their clarity and wisdom. For example:
Ralph made the money in advertizing -- that is, in hiring himself out to glorify whatever the industrialists were hoping to manufacture with profit; and Imogen [wife] spent the money on domestic settings and panoramas of travel abroad that made it poss
...more
Judith
Aug 26, 2013 Judith rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
What's the opposite of "chick-lit"? The section on "The Princess with the Golden Hair" is a literate man's sexual objectification of the ideal American beauty. I'm sure it was interesting and risqué in its day, but frankly, boring now. I love Wilson's ability to draw you into his world, and several of the other stories in the book did that, but this piece annoyed me. It felt like the art historian analyzing one of his paintings.

I had hoped to get insight into the Imogen Loomis character since sh
...more
Koen Kop
Oct 11, 2014 Koen Kop rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Read two of the stories in this book, then had enough. The main and longest story, "The princess with the golden hair", is a lot of lenghthy intellectualistic high-brow prattle which does not rise above the level of the cheapest three-penny novel. Mr. Wilson here reveals himself as a man very much in love with himself and a paragon of the pseudo-intellectual "chattering class" that is a product of Old-World classical education. Left me with a feeling of intense gratitude towards those scientists ...more
Greta
Apr 05, 2012 Greta rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: modern-fiction
I am really enjoying this book. What struck me the most about it was that I could get a real sense of the limitations both men and women faced regarding gender issues during the time period. I found the male point of view of this book very interesting and I was impressed by the author's exploration of the men and the issues they faced with women and class. I found some of his writing (particularily in the golden hair story) particularily alternating astute, poignant, and insightful regarding rol ...more
Adrian Colesberry
A series of vignettes about New Yorkers in a nearby vacation county. As I remember, Hecate county is fictional, probably a stand-in for the Hamptons. The stories are unconnected but the tone and his writing provide the glue. The story of the man's affair with the young, lower-class woman is the best of them. This must have been what got him in trouble with the censors. His writing about sexuality is so frank that you get confused about what era the writing came from. It's not stilted or nasty or ...more
Anna
Sep 14, 2007 Anna rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Only 3 of the 6 stories deserve praise. One of the 6, more of a novella really, "Princess with the Golden Hair" was pretty engrossing. "The Man Who Shot at Snapping Turtles" and "Glimpses of Wilbur Flick" were above average as well. Didn't enjoy the others. And watch out, the last story contains a good bit of untranslated French.
Diane Secchiaroli
Aug 12, 2013 Diane Secchiaroli rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Just finished The Princess with the Golden Hair. Weird ending. At present I will be glad to finish the book.
Finished the book finally. Guess i missed something because I hated the book. Only thing that made sense was Updike's review which did make me think I HAD missed something. Guess I should have looked at the book during the time it was written and not by today's standards.
Annie
Jul 13, 2007 Annie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
These stories are frighteningly familiar. The first time I read them, I felt like I was remembering stories that I had heard before. I don't know why.

They aren't nearly as erotic as the cover art would have you think.

E Smith
Sep 30, 2010 E Smith rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
the guy at avalon bookstore looked at me funny when i asked for this. i'd read wilson's "the wound and the bow" for class. this is what you might get if fitzgerald wrote like dickens. there is a lot going on here, but also a good story about shooting snapping turtles.
Patrone
Sep 02, 2015 Patrone rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Five stars purely on the strength of the novella "The Princess with the Golden Hair" and its throughly unlikeable Nick Carraway-via-Lou Reed narrator.
Joanne
Joanne rated it really liked it
Aug 29, 2010
Barth Adams
Barth Adams rated it really liked it
Nov 12, 2012
Dean Baker
Dean Baker rated it it was amazing
Mar 09, 2009
Erinn Beth
Erinn Beth rated it really liked it
Feb 21, 2016
Justinmarcum
Justinmarcum rated it it was amazing
Apr 24, 2013
John Alderman
John Alderman rated it liked it
Aug 19, 2007
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Edmund Wilson was an American writer and literary and social critic. He is considered by many to have been the 20th century's preeminent American man of letters.
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