Anne Redmon (Nightingale)

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Anatole Broyard

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"Emily Stone" is a disturbing study of two prevalent personality types: the bleeding heart and the computer mind. Peter [Emily's husband] is a bleeding heart, not in the usual political connotation but in an entirely egocentric sense. Caving in is the only kind of commitment he can manage. Irony and style are his sole restraints; beneath these, he is a swamp of sentimentality. A theatrical suffering is his way of mourning for the lost paradise of his childhood….

All Emily can offer him is order, a rational formula for living, for not exceeding one's limits. Thinking will be their voluptuousness….

Emily and Peter are all right together, aloof and absorbed in their books, until her friend Sasha contracts a fatal illness. As Paul Valéry's "Mr. Head" said of himself, their syllogism is debased by agony. Peter debauches himself with Sasha's suffering. It releases the feminine side that has festered unexpressed in him until it turned morbid and hysterical. Suffering, for him, is a therapy run amok, an inversion of his inhibitions.

Emily is obsessed by privacy, which is a kind of virginity to her, or a vaginismus. She is so dignified that she hates even eating, which she sees as a carnal concession. Sex with Peter is a sacrifice made in the name of order, an exorcising of Sasha's approaching death. "There is a certain frivolity about death," she feels. It can undo you, if you dwell on it.

Sasha is an idiot savant, a girl who embodies all the silliness that poets have attributed to women for centuries—and social position has incubated in them…. A frustrated actress, she discovers in dying the only dramatic role in which she is convincing….

[Anne Redmon] has the grace to write about disaster without bitterness. Like Joy Williams, Diane Johnson and Jill Robinson, she walks through hell as phlegmatically as a young mother in a supermarket. Despair is a breakfast food that is deficient in the necessary vitamins. Hope is fattening and bad for the teeth because it contains too much sugar….

There are a few scenes that misfire in "Emily Stone," but you would never know that this is a first novel…. Miss Stone has made us see the stretch of [the characters's] necks and the anachronism of their emotions.

Anatole Broyard, "Caving in, Keeping up," in The New York Times (© 1975 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), February 25, 1975, p. 33.

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The Times Literary Supplement


Robert Kiely