Book Review 18: The Group by Mary McCarthy

7 Mar

I watch Girls because I think it’s interesting. I don’t love everything that happens in every episode, or even like the characters very much, but what I do love is that every Monday the previous night’s episode creates conversation. Interesting conversation. I talk to my friends (and my mom) about body image. And race, and privilege. And about the surprising lack of ambition in the four girls trying to make it in NYC. Girls, like all television, owes a lot to what came before it. I picked up Mary McCarthy’s The Group at the library after reading this interview which, among other things, discussed the “reading list” given to the Girls writers.

Published in 1963, The Group is about a set of Vassar graduates who move to NYC upon graduation to pursue…whatever it is that people move to the city to look for. Love, career, escape. The book is set in the late 1930s, and I cannot tell you how modern this book felt.  It was kind of incredible. It makes sense, because these types of conflicts and stories were groundbreaking and unique in the 1930s even though they have become commonplace today, but it really felt timeless.  I also cannot tell you how similar this book felt to Girls. Similar themes, similar boundaries pushing, similar unlikeable but oddly relatable characters.

The opening story is about Kay’s nontraditional wedding, to a man share barely knows, with only her friends but no family present. It’s not quite Jessa’s bohemian wedding, but it could just as well have been. The judgment of everyone else at the wedding is on display, at her lack of compliance with generally accepted social traditions. The way the girls in the group gossiped at the wedding was so fascinating similar to what happens today. Everyone was happy for Kay, truly, and wanted to celebrate. But they wanted to nitpick details, to set a base to compare other weddings to, to evaluate whether they thought the couple would make it. It felt like every wedding I’ve ever been to.

Also, there were two chapters in the book that were basically transcriptions of the mommy blogs today. There was a chapter on breastfeeding, where one of the group decides to breastfeed and everyone decides this is an abomination. The debate over whether she should breast feed was intense, fiercely personal, and couched in rhetoric making it seem as if her personal decision would reflect on all of womankind. It sounded insanely familiar to the current breastfeeding debates I see all over today. And there was another chapter where two members of the group meet, and realize their child rearing philosophies are opposite, and judge each other so hard that I am positive if the internet existed back then they would have gone home and written about it on Facebook. It’s sad to see that the judgment of such a personal decision like how to raise your child has not changed.

Like Girls, I didn’t necessarily like the characters in this book.  When the single, unmarried friend brings her married friend along for moral support when getting birth control, it read like a scene from my (and many young girls’) lives. When a young woman worked through the depression to support her husband, it felt like the lives of many of my breadwinner friends.  I saw myself  in pieces of their stories, and it’s fascinating to see that the universal themes of love, carer, friendship, and children are still pretty much the same.

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4 Responses to “Book Review 18: The Group by Mary McCarthy”

  1. baxlala March 7, 2013 at 3:19 pm #

    This sounds fascinating! I think I remember reading about this book somewhere, probably around the time Girls came out, so thank you for reminding me about it.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. HelloKatieO’s #CBR5 Review #18: The Group by Mary McCarthy | Cannonball Read V - March 7, 2013

    […] Also, there were two chapters in the book that were basically transcriptions of the mommy blogs toda… […]

  2. Book Review 21: The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe | Book It. - March 13, 2013

    […] selection from the Girls’ writer’s room reading list. As much as The Group made me think a lot about how little the way women interact with each other, and the world, has […]

  3. HelloKatieO’S #CBR5 Review #21: The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe | Cannonball Read V - March 13, 2013

    […] selection from the Girls’ writer’s room reading list. As much as The Groupmade me think a lot about how little the way women interact with each other, and the world, has […]

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