From The Wall Street Journal:
By Mary McCarthy (1954)
1. Scandalous in its day, Mary McCarthy’s mordant tale of eight Vassar graduates who set out to make their mark in New Deal America became better known for its indelicate descriptiveness and racy sex scenes than for its other noteworthy aspects. Among the latter is the still-resonant portrait of the complicated relationships among a group of young women—strivers just beginning to make their way in the world. But McCarthy is after more than sizzle in her detailed scenes of women losing their virginity or getting fitted for contraceptive devices. She’s illuminating the experiences of women struggling to build lives for themselves in an era with seemingly few choices. Her most memorable creation, perhaps, is the enigmatic Lakey, the ur-alpha girl, who disappears for most of the novel but looms large in the imaginations of the other women. Dubbed by the others the “Mona Lisa of the Smoking Room,” Lakey is the one they all admire, even as they’re mystified by what she sees in them: “In private, they often discussed her, like toys discussing their owner.” What Lakey has that they don’t is not just moneyed glamour but a kind of freedom they can’t fathom. She doesn’t break the rules, she abandons them.
. . . .
By Margaret Atwood (1988)
3. Margaret Atwood takes a pitch-black approach to the cruelties and machinations of the relations between women. Elaine Risley, a successful painter returning to her hometown of Toronto, finds herself haunted by Cordelia, who was her vicious tormentor in elementary school. As a young student uncertain of herself, Elaine had quickly become a target. Cordelia marshaled the other girls against her, mocked her ceaselessly, bullied her physically. All through adolescence and young adulthood, the paths of the two repeatedly crossed. But each time, it seemed, Cordelia’s power diminished as she struggled with adulthood while Elaine—battle-hardened—grew stronger. As Ms. Atwood’s bleakly fascinating tale unfolds, it’s clear that Elaine’s childhood experience at Cordelia’s hands has had more than one permanent effect. Not only has she never been able to trust another woman fully: It’s also true that women—and Cordelia in particular—have come to dominate her art and her imagination. In the end the two old women sit over tea as Elaine tries to describe their strange connection. “Hatred would have been easier,” she says. “Hatred is clear, metallic, one-handed, unwavering; unlike love.”
Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal