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Monday, December 19, 2005

The Unpossessed

I went to Labyrinth Books this weekend for the annual remainder sale. I spend so much time there that I felt like I had picked through everything. I won a Labyrinth mug in the raffle, but I didn't leave with anything else except a reprint of Tess Slesinger's satire of Lefties in the 1930s, The Unpossessed. It's a very funny take on the Mary McCarthy-Bunny Wilson set from founding days of the Partisan Review.

In this selection, we join a lefty seduction in progress. Miles, a self-identified Marxist intellectual ("I thought you were a communist?" his friend asks. "This week," he replies.) has spirited his magazine partner's wife into the kitchen under the auspices of making drinks. He's become so tired of grenadine...

...[Margaret] stood and maintained her balance while he hurled himself against her; stood calm while he withdrew to murmur his curious verbal aphrodisiac.

"Margaret, are we never--" he whispered in her ear; "are you never going to throw away your bourgeois notions, are we always condemned to sin against ourselves and our desire, oh this is evil, you must read my book and see, it's the only evil..." He continued his impassioned speech; punctuated it with kisses oddly lacking in sensual intelligence. It persisted in her mind that this was
fake, that desire had stared from nothing, that she was taking part, however passively, in a drama much beneath her. "This is terrible," he whispered, "this making love in kitchens, it can't go on, this is no age for repressions...." His eyes ran from one of her eyes to the other, asking his hundreds of questions--but he waited for no answer; he whipped himself up to have something to beat, just as he fought for possession of her mouth which offered no resistance.

"Your bourgeois notions," he muttered furiously; "will you never get over them?" She had not answered him directly for something like five years, since the evening when she met him first; he had scarcely expected an answer since. She thought for a moment (she was a novice in these matters; the poignant moment had safely passed, leaving her able to coldly calculate), and then spoke blandly: "Yes, I think I
shall get over them, what you call my bourgeois notions. Now what do you think of that?"

A very funny book. Elizabeth Hardwick wrote the introduction to the reprint.