Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Group report

I read McCarthy's The Group, which I disliked - and in fact I skimmed much of it after the first three chapters or so, but it was pretty slow-moving in the middle so I didn't miss much. McCarthy's style is to throw in all kinds of personal details about minor characters (usually the parents of the Group members) into the narrative, which slows down the story to a crawl.

Although there is a certain frankness about sex in the book, unusual for the early 1960s, there isn't much else that's very similar to Sex and the City, at least the TV series - I haven't read the Bushnell columns. The Group is much more socio-politically aware - at least if dropping the names of magazines like the Nation and The New Republic counts. Although there is the author's obsession with describing characters clothing in great detail at odd moments - fashion obsession is very SATC-esque:
She and Kay were just the opposite of each other, Kay had been telling Mr. Bergler this afternoon.
"Really?" said Mr. Bergler, "How?" In college I wanted to be a director," Kay replied. "Come here, Helena," she called loudly. "We're talking about you." Unwillingly Helena approached; she was wearing a skullcap hat and a black velvet dress, with buttons straight down the front and a little old-lace collar with her cat's eye broach. "I was saying I always wanted to be a director." Kay continued.
Not only is there no point in suddenly mentioning what Helena was wearing, but I was completely unable to discern what the outfit signified, if anything. It was published in the early 1960s but it was set in the early 1930s, so who knows what a black velvet dress says about Helena? She's a goth?

However, the section about the Payne Whitney made it all worth it. The description of the place echoed Monroe's story - it sounds like very little changed in thirty years.

McCarthy:
At eleven thirty there was a knock. A young psychiatrist with glasses had come to talk to her. "We were hoping to see Mr. Petersen this morning," he said with an air of disapproval, so that Kay felt she ought to apologize. He took notes while she told him her story. When she finished, breathlessly, and was waiting to hear his verdict, he sat for a few moments in silence, riffling through his notebook. "Why do you place so much importance on your belt?" he suddenly demanded. "The night nurses reported that you first became very unruly when they asked you to give it to them... "It's not my fault-" she began. "Just a minute," he said, "I see that you've used the expression 'his fault', 'my fault' and their equivalents thirty-seven times in the course of our talk. I wonder if you'd like to give me your thoughts on that." 

Monroe:

There was no empathy at Payne-Whitney -- it had a very bad effect -- they asked me after putting me in a "cell" (I mean cement blocks and all) for very disturbed depressed patients (except I felt I was in some kind of prison for a crime I hadn't committed. The inhumanity there I found archaic. They asked me why I wasn't happy there (everything was under lock and key; things like electric lights, dresser drawers, bathrooms, closets, bars concealed on the windows -- the doors have windows so patients can be visible all the time, also, the violence and markings still remain on the walls from former patients). I answered: "Well, I'd have to be nuts if I like it here" then there screaming women in their cells -- I mean they screamed out when life was unbearable I guess -- at times like this I felt an available psychiatrist should have talked to them. Perhaps to alleviate even temporarily their misery and pain. I think they (the doctors) might learn something even -- but all are only interested in something from the books they studied -- I was surprised because they already know that. Maybe from some live suffering human being they could discover more -- I had the feeling they looked more for discipline and that they let their patients go after the patients have "given up". They asked me to mingle with the patients, to go out to O.T. (Occupational Therapy). I said: "And do what?" They said: "You could sew or play checkers, even cards and maybe knit". I tried to explain the day I did that they would have a nut on their hands. These things were furthest from my mind. They asked me why I felt I was "different" (from the other patients I guess) so I decided if they were really that stupid I must give them a very simple answer so I said: "I just am".

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