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The Company She Keeps

3.74  ·  Rating details ·  525 Ratings  ·  63 Reviews
This is the author’s first novel, which relates the experiences of a young bohemian intellectual. The six episodes create a fascinating portrait of a New York social circle of the 1930s. McCarthy’s bold insight and virtuoso style won her immediate recognition as one of the most accomplished, versatile, and penetrating writers in americanca.
Paperback, 304 pages
Published January 13th 2003 by Mariner Books (first published 1942)
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Ian "Marvin" Graye
Act One (How I Met Mary)

What is it you want in a muse?

It's not always about sex or just about sex, because the sex is relatively easy to come by.

Just because you have sex, in a cab, in a room, in your apartment, in your home, in your mansion, doesn't mean that a woman will be your muse.

Did I know that Mary would be my muse? Did I even know I would have sex with her?

Did I know what role she would play in my life?

Did I know just how much she would complicate my life? Did I know how complicated
Barry Pierce
A young woman gets divorced and decides to live life as a Bohemian in New York in the 1930s. If only the book were as good as that synopsis sounds. The novel is split into six vignettes telling the story of our heroine through the men she meets. I thought this would be up my alley but I found it to be quite boring really. I did enjoy the numerous conversations about Trotsky, however. And I liked how it gave us a glimpse into life in New York in the 30s which is never a bad thing. It's a gallant ...more
Aug 06, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Mary McCarthy is my 1930s soul sister. She was a hussy of incomparable wit with a somewhat tragic past (orphaned by the Spanish flu pandemic, sent to live with a sadistic aunt). All the reviews of this book mention it as her succès de scandale because of her habits in the bedroom, but if published today I'd imagine her Trotskyism would garner more attention. At any rate, it's not her objectionable behavior that makes the stories good, but instead her clever characters. My favorite story was pr ...more
Leah W
Dec 07, 2009 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: neurotic women and women who will find comfort in not being as neurotic as the narrator
Recommended to Leah by: Susan
Since I moved to a big city when I was 18, and had to start dealing with scads of people running into me, bumping into me, forcing their lives into my sphere of awareness, I've decided that a particular kind of friend is necessary--the friend with whom you can be your most wicked, outrageous, mean, scandalous, ill-spirited self.

This friend may not be your closest friend; in fact, if this friend is your closest pal, you might want to rethink how you live your life. You may have one of these kind
margaret sargent appartiene a una delle tipologie di donna che trovo più intristenti. quelle che confondono l'intelligenza con la ricevuta di ritorno dell'ascendente esercitato sugli altri. che vogliono apparire engagé a tutti i costi - va bene qualunque causa, basta avere un pubblico per l'endorsement di turno - e finiscono sempre a indossare un filo di sprezzo nei confronti delle debolezze altrui. nello stesso tempo però eccole inciampare in situazioni che tradiscono la loro vanità, l'insicure ...more
Jun 06, 2007 rated it really liked it
The Company She Keeps is the life of Margaret Sargeant told in short stories. Margaret, a cosmopolitan intellectual, lived a modern life in the 1930s as a single career woman with many interests, experiences, and lovers. I was struck most by the vibrant intellectual (read Marxist) world portrayed in the novel. McCarthy has a distinctive voice that feels modern even today. This, McCarthy's first novel was controversial at its publication for its frank and open discussion of sex. But within that d ...more
Aug 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
A witty portrait of the artist as a bohemian intellectual woman, as well as a cautionary tale about the perils of singledom. This is the first novel that Mary McCarthy wrote after her hubby, the critic Edmund Wilson, encouraged her to try her hand at fiction. Considering that it was published in 1942 and set during the Depression Era, it's oddly resonant today, with its talk of how outdated modes of capitalism are just not working. Given its progressive politics, it's ironic that the novel was a ...more
Dec 18, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: big-white-square
Trotsky, sex and Freud in the 30s; a time when Americans were allowed to call themselves socialists. Margaret was great and, like Gloria in "BUtterfield 8", not afraid of looking at herself in the mirror. The men were all a bit pathetic and believable

"Sentences were short, and points in the argument clicked like bright billiard balls."
Jan 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My edition is actually a mid-50s Dell plucked from a dumpster which fell apart just slightly faster than I could read it, which always adds a certain piquancy to the experience.
McCarthy wrote two dozen works of fiction and non-fiction over 50 years. She was smack in the middle of the New York literary and political intelligentsia of the mid-20th century (Partisan Review, The Nation etc.).
This is her first work, a novel dealing (in the book jacket language of the time) "frankly" with a sexually-l
Frances Coles
Nov 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
For some reason, I had always thought of Mary McCarthy as someone not to take very seriously. More a writer to read for the racy gossipy bits, or as a kind of style guide to being a young woman in a big city, than a real, serious writer. This is perhaps because up until recently, all that I'd read of her had been The Group, back in junior high. (I remember our hip cool young English teacher seeing me toting it around and saying derisively, "The Group! Ah, THERE'S a classic.") Also perhaps becaus ...more
Jenny Yates
Mar 27, 2010 rated it liked it
If you like clever conversation, thoroughly laced with the left-wing politics of the late 30s, this is the book for you. It’s a series of interconnected short stories, set at various points in the life of Margaret Sargent. She’s one of the most self-aware people you’ll ever meet. She shares not just her thoughts, but her judgments of her thoughts, and the reasons behind these judgments.

At the same time, McCarthy only occasionally over-writes. The point of view shifts, and often we see her throu
Caitlin Constantine
Dec 29, 2010 rated it really liked it
The book was slow going, but that's just because McCarthy packed so much into each sentence and paragraph that I had to pay close attention to every word I read. It was a lot of effort but totally worth it! Her way of dealing with characters is to pull no punches, to show not only their nobilities but also their weaknesses, and not just the weaknesses that we find acceptable, like "Oh, I love too much!" or "I'm so self-sacrificing!" You know, the ones that can be interpreted as virtuous. No, she ...more
Nov 01, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2009, mainstream-us
The six short stories in The Company She Keeps are remarkably uneven - although the saving grace of that is that the weakest come first, and the strongest is at the end. Despite a central protagonist with the same name and biography in each tale, the stories don't read as one continuous tale - in fact they're best sampled, I think, as six distinct vignettes with a few curious overlaps, rather than as a narrative that's meant to flow together.

'Cruel and Barbarous Treatment' and 'Rogue's Gallery'
Jul 27, 2015 rated it it was ok
I wanted to like this more. The book is made up of six loosely connected stories, all about a young woman (I'm guessing based on the author) and her life in New York in the 1930s, working for a left-wing newpaper and dating and marrying various men. The stories are told from several different viewpoints, and it took me a while to work out that "Margaret" features in each of them. The first story, about a woman who has an affair with a younger man and decides to tell her husband, is rather brilli ...more
Pooja Pillai
Feb 15, 2014 rated it liked it
My first Mary McCarthy, and I'm already influenced enough by it to want to write something similar set in Bombay. It's really an episodic novel about the life of one writer, Margaret Sargent, as she shuttles between lovers and uncomfortable situations. However, each chapter can also be read as a stand-alone short story, and that's what I loved about it. She also uses a variety of voices and perspectives throughtout the book, which is helpful, because it keeps the reader alert. My only quibble is ...more
Jul 09, 2011 rated it really liked it
some of the stories are MUCH better than others, hence the rating, but wow. what an amazing debut. her writing is incredible. i find it strange that she hated salinger so because his writing provoked basically the same feelings from me. i suppose there are differences in style but salinger and mccarthy are both incredibly observant, insightful and above all things, narcissistic.
Alessandra Gad
Sep 10, 2012 rated it liked it
lukewarm feelings about the collection over all, but worthwhile for the parts that stung. what parts stung—STUNG. i wish i hadn't accidentally left the copy with my marked quotations in the beach house i was staying in.
Lazarus P Badpenny Esq
More a set of satisfying and perceptive character studies than a novel per se. But once beyond the initial preponderance for Capital Letters, McCarthy has a keen eye for the right metaphor and an incisive insider knowledge of interwar intellectual liberalism.
Apr 02, 2016 rated it liked it
I have mixed feelings in reading the six short stories that introduce us to Margaret Sargent's story. This is my first exposure to Ms. McCarthy's writing and overall I enjoyed her lyrical and honest storytelling. Reading about how we change as we age, from a young idealist to an older realist, and how we justify these changes to fit in with our youngest self's ideals. The frank thoughts about sex, divorce, affairs, aging, personal conflicts took some time to resonate within my psyche.

By far my f
E.C. McCarthy
Sep 25, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: great-women
A collection of stories that add up, more or less, to a novel. It says specifically "A Novel" on the cover. I looked. Twice.

McCarthy's writing isn't flowery and her prose isn't beautiful in a demonstrative way. She's more like an understated piece of antique furniture, maybe a five-hundred-year-old desk, that commands respect for all it has survived. You want to know what sustains her. You don't question her wisdom, no matter how neurotic or anxious she tells you she is, because her vision is c
Jan 05, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: new-york-city
too bitter, too analytical and too detached. I felt as if I were reading henry James for the 20th century. having said that it provided a fascinating contemporary view of the mid-century period I love so much: the final chapter was almost like reading what is going through Donald Draper's wife's mind when she is sent for psychiatric counselling. also interesting to read about american being socialist and communist before (the other) McCarthy ie quite openly, and with a great deal of intellectual ...more
Roberta McDonnell
Sep 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Brilliantly written, sharp and poignant, this is an exceptional book. Mary McCarthy observes life with a paradoxically cool eye and heartfelt connection. She is ahead of her time and yet reflects perfectly the time and place from whence she writes - Bohemian New York of the intelligentsia during the 1930s and 40s. Margaret Sheridan's life is related through a series of liason's with various men who misuse and disappoint her. As someone once admired in McCarthy - her ultimate mission seems to be ...more
Rebecca eley
Enjoyed isn’t quite the right word, or even liked, I think it is more that I am glad I have read it.

The book is about Margaret Sergent & is told through various incidents that happed in her life. You know from the start of the book that she is troubled and has remained so most of her life. Margaret is a fast paced young lady ahead of the time she lives (c1940’s I think)

I do like books like this, but it is the part of me that likes fills with bad endings. It isn’t very cheerful and you feel p
May 25, 2008 rated it liked it
This was a very interesting book, and one I'll definitely have to read again. It took a good two months, because of school, so I'd like to read it in a week or so, without all the breaks. Some of it was very confusing; it changes so much from chapter to chapter that I would find myself loving it after one chapter, and not wanting to go on when I started the next. It seemed a little disconnected at times, but overall I think it works all right.

I didn't like the last chapter that much - a psychoan
Jul 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
Or to be more specific:

"Cruel and Barbarous Treatment" -- 5 stars, particularly if read on a plane headed west

"Rogue's Gallery" -- 3 stars

"The Genial Host" -- 3.5 stars

"Portrait of the Intellectual As a Yale Man" -- 4 stars

"Ghostly Father, I Confess" -- 2 stars

"The Man in the Brooks Brothers Shirt" -- if you read the whole thing sitting in a booth alone in a diner in L.A., looking up from your book every so often to eye strangers like you are a person with a secret, 6 stars
Maggie Hesseling
Nov 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
An extraordinary read. Each page is full of beauty, wit, and dispair-i couldn't help but be moved by each story. It gives a glimps into the life of the author, and into the mind of a poet. Every sentance written speaks from the heart and you feel yourself changing gradually as you journey along with the character and the relationships she experiences.

Mostly, this novel is addictive. It seduces you to read more at every turn. And though The Group might be her most acclaimed piece, this novel alt
David Haws
Aug 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
I had only been familiar with McCarthy’s literary criticisms; but this novel was assigned and never covered in an undergraduate lit class (early 1970s). I finally got around to reading it. It’s well-written, with compelling characterizations (I would expect no less) but it reads more like a cobbled collection of magazine vignettes (not much plot, and only a loose narrative tie through the protagonist). It does provide an interesting insight into the golden age of American radicalism and 1930’s B ...more
Leggere A Colori
Aug 10, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ambientato nell’ America degli anni Yrenta, ha la capacità di raccontare episodi che potrebbero essere ambientati anche in epoca più moderna, tale è il carattere e la spregiudicatezza con la quale viene descritta la protagonista: una giovane, disinibita e provocatoria ragazza.

Continua a leggere su
Jun 14, 2010 rated it liked it
In many ways this is a period piece, and I suppose it would have disappeared had not McCarthy gone on to write The Group. My book club disagreed completely about which stories they liked more or less - but I personally liked the Portrait of an Intellectual and the scathing portrayal of superficiality and infighting among the "true believers." I also appreciated that - until the last chapter - she doesn't give the protagonist a break. She doesn't excuse her (own) bad behavior.
Judith Slawson King
Apr 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I recently reread The Company She Keeps which I first read in the early 60s when I was in my early 20s and I was as fascinated now as I was then. Unless you were an adolescent in the 50s and in college in the early 60s, which is before they became THE 60s, you cannot imagine how liberating were these stories of a young woman in New York during the Depression. The blend of politics and sexuality would not be equaled until Doris Lessing wrote The Golden Notebook.
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Mary McCarthy (1912–1989) was an American literary critic and author of more than two dozen books including the 1963 New York Times bestseller The Group. Born in Seattle, McCarthy studied at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, and graduated in 1933. After moving to New York City, McCarthy became known for her incisive writing as a contributor to publications such as the Nation, the New Repub ...more
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