American novelist Anne Roiphe’s chaotic personal life is perfect fodder for a John Cheever story. Roiphe, who penned the bestselling Up the Sandbox, has written a dark account of her bad marriage to a failed playwright. Yet she spices up the grim narrative with her adulterous liaisons with New York’s boho elite like George Plimpton and William Styron. As a self-confessed muse, Roiphe’s ambitious list of lovers is crowded with horny National Book Award winners—at least she kept the mid-list writers at bay. Throughout this authentic and revealing memoir, we’re witness again and again to Roiphe’s careless treatment of her own talents and creative energy. She relentlessly subverts her own creative impulses and consciously plays second fiddle to larger-than-life men of letters.
In 1957, Roiphe marries an emerging alcoholic American playwright, Jack Richardson. He spends their Paris honeymoon money at the bar, leaving her alone each night to cry and worry. The sad story continues when Roiphe has Richardson’s baby and spends more lonely nights in front of the tube waiting for him to stagger home to sleep it off. Like Pablo Picasso’s miserable muse, Dora Maar, Roiphe’s masochism matches perfectly with her hubby’s indifferent streak.
The faltering marriage finally grinds to a halt and, coincidentally, Roiphe’s own writing career takes off. But the madness of the muse truly comes to an end when Roiphe meets and marries a stable psychoanalyst. Despite her ruined history, Roiphe confesses she still seeks out the dangerous company of her tribe: “Artists and writers and their molls don’t decay. They explode, perhaps, which is much better. I think of Hemingway and his big fish.”