the guardian Tue 08 November 2011
First published in 1942, two decades before The Group, this exhibits all the McCarthy trademarks of a gloriously bohemian approach to life, whiplash wit and an extraordinary frankness about sex. Yes, it's showing a few signs of its age: some racial terms that were acceptable then but cause a wince now, and a preoccupation with leftwing issues that have since lost their flavour. Another weakness is that this is really six short stories tenuously held together by dint of McCarthy's intensely autobiographical style. Thus wonderful chapters about an extra-marital affair, a crooked antiques dealer, a one-night stand on a train, a manipulative host and an amiable radical have just one thing in common: the presence, sometimes less than centrally, of Meg Sargent, a cipher for McCarthy. But who cares? The writing is brilliant, the similes effortless and yet apposite, the sharing of pleasure and pain alike is generous. The final story, an account of psychotherapy, cuts so deep into McCarthy's damaged heart it's a wonder the page doesn't bleed.