Debs's Reviews > Pentimento

Pentimento by Lillian Hellman
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's review
Jun 02, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: summer-reading
Read from June 02 to 09, 2011

I loved this book. Every single page of it. It's not about Hellman's great successes and failures, her great loves or her true heart breaks. It is about people that touched her life at times when she, for whatever reason (too young, too busy, too worried, too heartbroken, too drunk), could not figure them out. Which is to say, she didn't understand at the time of the relationship what motivated these people to do what they did, or how they did what they did or why. Mixed in with actual people is also her relationship with the theater, which was indeed as fickle a lover for Hellman as Hammett ever was.

The book is so lovely because she merely describes what she saw at the time she saw it, without saying, "Now, that I have lived, I understand why." She simply lets the stories float on the page, as they float in and out of her own memory throughout her life. The stuff of history she is best known for, The Children's Hour as well as her love of Hammett and her ruin at the hands of the McCarthy hearings are just background to the narratives of these other people she loved and misunderstood and pondered.

It's like a B-side record. Not the billboard hit, but the other side, which sometimes you end up loving even more than the popular song. I think more people SHOULD write books like this: Leave the big brush strokes to the critics, and write about people who really changed how you thought, even if it's years after they are dead when you realize it. It made me think about people I've known who were mysteries to me at the time, but who I look back on every now and again. And now, I will always think of Hellman when I think of them.

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