Stories of artistic rebels and intellectual anarchists on Cape Cod.
A lawyer, literary agent, and longtime Cape Cod resident, Williams draws on personal interviews, memoirs, biographies, and cultural histories to create a generous, commodious portrait of the communities of artists and writers who flourished on the Cape from 1910 to 1960. Cheaper than Greenwich Village, where many of them lived, they came to the sleepy, shabby villages of Provincetown, Truro, and Wellfleet “dedicated to radical political reform, a new exploration of personal relationships free from Victorian strictures, and the search for a new ‘American’ voice in writing, painting, architecture, and theater.” Through the years, the towns attracted a stellar population of playwrights (Eugene O’Neill, Tennessee Williams, Susan Glaspell) who presented their work at the Provincetown Players; poets (Edna St. Vincent Millay, e.e. cummings); novelists (Mary McCarthy, Robert Nathan, Norman Mailer); artists (Edward Hopper, Anni Albers, Hans Hofmann); literary critics (Edmund Wilson, Daniel Aaron); activists (John Reed, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn); editors (Max Eastman, Philip Rahv); and scores more. Some were drawn to communism and anarchism, all to intellectual rebellion; some enjoyed independent wealth, others struggled financially. Together, they created a bohemian world of “cocktails, beach parties, and long, boisterous dinners, all liberally fueled by alcohol.” Even during Prohibition, alcohol flowed freely, sometimes spurring creativity and freeing inhibitions, often eroding “professional promise and domestic happiness.” Men and women changed partners so often, some readers may have difficulty keeping track. Children suffered, ignored or even abandoned by self-absorbed parents. “When mixed with multiple divorces,” Williams notes, “the world they created for their children was both unsafe and enticing.” Williams sets the inhabitants in historical and political context: women’s suffrage, labor strikes, the trial of Sacco and Vanzetti, two world wars, the Depression, the Spanish Civil War, antisemitism, and a hunt for communists, all of which had an impact on their lives, loves, friendships, and work.
An intimate view of creative lives in turbulent times.
Pub Date: yesterday
Page Count: 368
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online: March 16, 2022
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022