It was almost a month ago that I started reading The Group. It does not usually take me this long to read a novel, but this one requires and deserves all the time you can give it. A well known, bestselling novel by the widely published writer, Mary McCarthy, The Group is an exceptional book that was groundbreaking in it's time and, in my opinion, still is.
As I mentioned when I previously wrote about this book, the story is centered on the lives of seven Vassar graduates in the years after their graduation. It opens with the marriage of one of the girls, Kay, and ends with a funeral—I won't disclose whose.
The writing is superb, which doesn't even need to be said when discussing a McCarthy book. It's a given. The characters all maintain specific and unique qualities but they are all realistic and personable. All of the girls go through hardships and successes. They deal with issues such as contraception, sexism, family crises, motherhood, bankruptcy, and heartbreaking relationships. McCarthy writes about these topics with depth, sympathy, and honesty. There's no sidestepping of awkward or uncomfortable situations and McCarthy allows you to experience each moment alongside the character. Rarely have a read a book that is so exceptionally truthful and realistic in regards to its characters, and that is what sets this book apart.
Because of the topics written about in this book, it was considered controversial. It was even banned in Australia. However, it did not deter sales at all. The Group landed on the bestseller list upon its publication and held its place there for two years. Further, it has inspired more current works based on the storyline, plot, and air of controversy. Candace Bushnell's Sex and the City was written as a modern adaptation of The Group and went on to have exceptional success.
Yes, this books takes time to read, but that makes it all the more recommended. Books are not meant to be run through at a high speed. They should be savored, enjoyed, and studied. Reading slowly through a book allows for reflection. You can form your thoughts and your own ideas about the characters and what they are experiencing. Who cares how long it takes you to read The Group? As long as you are enjoying it, take all the time you need.
There are a lot of characters and all of the main characters are women who come from interesting and occasionally similar backgrounds and all are equally well educated. Occasionally, it can be difficult to recall which storyline belongs to which woman but the writing style helps correct this. McCarthy dedicates about one to one and half chapters to each woman and often weaves the one or two girls into the storyline of another to keep them relevant and in your mind. Some girls have more focus on their story than others but that's ok, it would be impossible to dedicate the same amount of pages and words to each girl—it would become superfluous and the book would never end. Also, we do not get to see each girl in each year of the story. Often, we will get the story of one girl and then jump forward two years to get the story of the next girl. While it might sound confusing, it makes the reading very clear and understandable.
Some argue that this book is autobiographical, as McCarthy did graduate from Vassar in 1933, the same year as the girls in the book. She lived in New York City and was partial to communist groups after converting from Catholicism to atheism, a sentiment that can be seen by how some of the girls refer to the Church. Also, there is a very large focus on different political groups and sectors in the 30s. I had difficulty following the book at these moments simply because I do not know enough about that part of history. And this book truly is influenced by the time period in which it takes place. Everything that happens is influenced by the politics and social norms of its time. The book could not have been written any other way and it could not have been written any better. It is a masterpiece of prose and storytelling.
I recommend The Group to everyone because everyone can relate and everyone should experience a book by Mary McCarthy. I believe that it will interest women who have lived in New York City, have graduated from a private liberal arts college like Vassar, and women who have ever experienced the sensation of belonging to a well-defined group of girlfriends.
Have you ever read The Group? What did you think about the story and how it was written? If you've never read it, would you consider it?
The author, Mary McCarthy