The Group by Mary McCarthy
One of my book club friends found a list of books everyone should read before they are 30, or some such list. I’ve looked high and low for the link, but I can’t find it anywhere. But anyway, the list was pretty great and our book club decided to choose one of the recommended reads for our July meeting. We picked The Group by Mary McCarthy. Written in 1963 and set between 1933 and 1940, it was quite scandalous for its time. And I just loved it.
When The Group begins eight friends have just graduated from Vasser, class of 1933. One of the young women, Kay, is getting married to a guy named Harald who no one seems to know very well or like very much. At the pretty casual wedding are the seven other members of “The Group” – Dottie, Pokey, Lakey, Polly, Priss, Helena, and Libby. Over the course of the next eight years we see where life takes these women. And while different members of “The Group” have different experiences with their families, jobs, husbands, travel, and children, what is really most interesting about this novel is the way it portrays life of women in the 1930s.
I’d never thought much about birth control in the 1930s, but McCarthy throws it right out there in chapter 2. And let me tell you: she does not hold back one bit. No wonder this book was such a scandalous affair when it was published! Then there’s a whole section on breastfeeding and what a battle that was, with doctors and nurses and even families pushing the “scientifically better” formula. Top that off with some domestic abuse and a little mental illness and we have ourselves a pretty hefty story.
It was interesting to see that many of the aspects of being a woman haven’t changed at all in nearly 80 years. But it was simply amazing to read about what life was like for these women in the 1930s. We see a group of woman who are a little catty, a little proud, a little ambitious, a little unsure. We see woman much like the woman we know today, but wrapped up in a time that I realize I know very little about and is so interesting to discover. This novel was amazing and I can’t stop gushing about it.