If I were to start an Internet-based quiz called “Which member of the ‘Group’ are you?” do you think may people would play? Is it possible to name the eight members of THE GROUP off the top of one’s head, or will the list come up one short, a la the Seven Dwarves? Let’s see: Kay, Helena, Libby, Lakey, Dottie, Priss, Polly, Pokey . . . you’ll have to take my word on it, I did it in three seconds. Then again, the eight girls have true narratives, unlike the dwarves, who just have adjectives.
I can’t remember when I first read THE GROUP. I have a hunch it was because — frequent theme here — I thought it was dirty. In “Goodbye, Columbus,” Brenda tells Neil she knows how to get fitted for a diaphragm because she’s read Mary McCarthy. Promising stuff. Of course, as always, while I was looking for the dirty stuff, the book’s irony and satire sailed over my head. Now it’s one of my annual re-reads. I wonder if I’m still missing bits.
I’ve also read McCarthy’s memoirs and criticism (highly recommended). At some point, I was surprised to find out that she considered Libby, the most loathsome member of the Group by far, to be semi-autobiographical. Other characters, too, carried pieces of McCarthy’s autobiography. Kay, clearly, had much in common with her creator — the Western background, the husband in theater. But it was interesting to me that she would publicly claim the hateful Libby as a part of her. (To be clear: I’m not sure if McCarthy said that, of it was in a piece I read about THE GROUP, and how it affected her friends from Vassar.)
The thing is . . . I have an inner Libby. Or maybe it’s an outer one. When Libby muses on how her friends cool toward her over time, her, she thinks: “They flee from me who once did seek,” or words to that effect. And when Polly thinks that she feels terribly sorry for Libby and girls like her, girls with big red mouths that just gab away . . . yep, that feels right, too. Libby wants to be a writer and is very full of herself. When a member of the Group dies, she stays away as long as there’s any work to be done, then shows up and demands the salacious gossip.
Libby popped into my head while I was pondering a woman I knew in college, someone a year behind me. We lived in the same dorm and I liked her very much in the brief time that I considered her a friend. I doted on her, thought of her as a younger sister — adorable, puppy-ish. Maybe that was the problem. At any rate, a day came when she no longer wanted my friendship. A _moment_ came. It was that seminal, that obvious. I can’t remember the words, but I remember the look — the exasperated eye roll, the strange thing she did with her mouth, the hand that fluttered briefly on the hip, the body language. I remember what she was wearing — dark down vest, over a beige turtleneck, duck boots — how she held her books in one arm. I can see it now. Me, who can’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday — wait, it was leftover haroset on matzah — can envision this scene, my own little Zapruder movie of a friendship’s death.
Last year, “The Friend that Got Away” was the topic of an entire anthology of essays. Do all women have friends who got away? What about men?