Synopses & Reviews
Picking up where Manhattan, When I Was Young left off, Mary Cantwell brings the full maturity of her voice as a writer to a memoir that is darker, wiser, and edgier than anything she has done before.
With a voice that has deepened and matured, Mary Cantwell gives us her most revealing book yet. Evoking the same sense of place she brought first to American Girl and then to Manhattan, When I Was Young, she records the next seven years of her life, a time in which she had a fever to roam the world, less to see it than to experience it. Out of an overwhelming desire to get away from a broken marriage and the ensuing loneliness, she was catapulted into a life in which, at last, she learned to accept and even enjoy the person that she was.
In soaring, lyrical prose, Cantwell recalls with startling honesty and humor her travels through Turkey, Yugoslavia, and Russia and her fervent promise never to leave her children again if God would just get her out of whatever hellhole she found herself in. Invariably, the promise lasted only as long as it took her to pack for her next assignment. She writes of her longing to embrace a semblance of a "normal" life and how that longing was met by an inevitably disastrous affair with a famous, womanizing writer she calls the "balding man" With profound affection, she also recounts her friendship with the reclusive novelist Frederick Exley, in all its oddity and brio.
The conclusion of a trilogy about a certain kind of a woman, one whom Cantwell defines as a cross between Daisy Miller and Daisy Kennecott, Speaking with Strangers is a moving and fiercely candid account of how its author finally came into her own.
Mary Cantwell's supple, seductive voice speaks out in her most revealing memoir, the conclusion of a trilogy about an American woman with one foot in her past and the other, warily, in her present. AMERICAN GIRL evoked the delights of her early youth in a small New England town. MANHATTAN WHEN I WAS YOUNG told of her marriage and children, her blossoming career in New York, and the decline of that marriage. In SPEAKING WITH STRANGERS she finds herself alone: a single mother in the big city, bereft of her husband if bolstered by friends, professionally successful if personally sad.. She took to traveling, for escape, to far regions of the world on magazine assignments. While wandering through Izmir, Belgrade, Tashkent, she would promise herself never to leave her children again if God would just get her out of the latest hellhole. Yet the farther she rambled, the more she found herself taking on a shape again--by speaking with strangers. She also found deep, if passing, happiness in an intense relationship with a famous writer she calls the balding man and warmth and hilarity in her friendship with the legendarily reclusive--and rambunctious--novelist, Frederick Exley. In SPEAKING WITH STRANGERS Mary Cantwell renders a sensibility as vivid as the city of which she is, quite literally, a part. As this fiercely candid memoir ends, Cantwell realizes that she had long since embraced my true bridegroom. That was the day I married New York. And with that realization this maker of a family and a career comes fully into her own as a writer.