To the Life of the Silver Harbor: Edmund Wilson and Mary McCarthy on Cape Cod
Reuel K. WilsonE-book: $19.99
This is the understated New England version of the Hollywood childhood memoir, with a beautiful twist. Reuel K. Wilson is the son of writers Mary McCarthy and Edmund Wilson, both almost as famous for their scandalously bohemian lifestyle as for their work. While the marriage lasted only seven years (from 1938, the year Reuel was born, to 1945), Reuel's parents left him with an abiding love for Wellfleet, a small community just 14 miles south of Provincetown on Cape Cod, where the couple lived for several years.Reuel shared his father's distaste for the "richification" of the Cape -- Edmund first began visiting there in the 1920s, when it was truly a haven for artists and writers -- but he clearly loves the houses and the landscape that remain the most stable part of what seems a pretty unstable upbringing. It's quite a cast of characters -- Eugene O'Neill (whose house slid quietly into the ocean), John Dos Passos (who called the Cape "New England's Riviera"), E.E. Cummings and many others. The chapters "Edmund Wilson's Cape Cod Poetry" ("Where daylight whitens to the west," Wilson wrote in a poem called "Provincetown") and "Remembering My Parents and Cape Cod" are by far the warmest and most memorable in this delightful memoir.
—Los Angeles Times
Although he is the prismatic lens through which we see Wilson and McCarthy, Mr. Reuel has kept the focus squarely on his parents. He is not shy about giving his point of view, but he is genuinely concerned with broadening and deepening our understanding of these fascinating and complex people. Clearly, they were not the easiest of parents to be around, but this book is truly a whining-free zone, about as far as you can get from a Mommie Dearest sort of memoir . . . References to autobiographical and biographical sources are exhaustively referenced and even footnoted, all very useful as a guide to those readers who will doubtless be stimulated by this book to read more about Wilson and McCarthy. Mr. Reuel is not shy about correcting or adding to the record where necessary: After all he has a unique vantage point and authority to do so. But he consistently does so with a quiet grace all his own, a quality which would have greatly benefited his choleric father and contrary mother and those around them . . . Clearly this was one child who was far better off with divorced parents than if their battlefield of a marriage had continued throughout his childhood. Perhaps this is the root of his mellow view of them and Cape Cod, the scene of so much of his life with Mom and Dad.
Reuel Wilson deserves gratitude for providing a unique perspective on one of the most celebrated encounters of 20th-century literature.
—National Post (Canada)
One might say that [Edmund Wilson and Mary McCarthy's] son Reuel had a front-row seat on the most exciting couple of the day. Rather than just recite the litany of their flare-ups, Reuel does something remarkable in this era of repressed memories. He offers a loving portrait of each parent, together and alone . . . Magical memories, apparently, and because of them, we have this little gem of a book.
—The Sunday Republican (Waterbury, CT)
Reuel Wilson retraces the eye-opening natures walks he took with his father, side by side, when he was entering adolescence. Gull Pond in Wellfleet, 'almost a perfect circle,' allowed ample time for a memorable lecture of the Lady’s Slipper, Edmund Wilson’s favorite wildflower, and how its slipper-like pouch seems to connect with his father’s fascination with women’s feet. The author’s boyhood innocence is saturated with mature wisdom. His book offers us a rare and intimate glimpse into the sophisticated Bohemian culture made famous in the writings of his parents.
—Christopher Busa, founder and editor, Provincetown Arts
REUEL K. WILSON is the son of renowned literary critic Edmund Wilson and the writer Mary McCarthy. Now retired from teaching Russian, Polish, and Comparative Literature at the University of Western Ontario, he is the author of The Literary Travelogue (1973) and Poland’s Caribbean Tragedy (1986) and numerous articles, including portions of this material in The Paris Review, The Virginia Quarterly Review, and The Cape Cod Voice. He maintains a part-time residence in Wellfleet, on Cape Cod.