Barbara Wersba GEORGESS McHARGUE - Essay

GEORGESS McHARGUE

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

It is hard for a writer to write about writers. In respect of that, at least, Barbara Wersba's The Country of the Heart … is something of a tour de force. Here we have two writers: a famous, caustic, self-absorbed woman poet of 40 and an unformed, vulnerable, aspiring young man of 18…. (The two literary types are not new, either to fiction or to history.)

Steven makes all the mistakes. He blunders wide-eyed into the life of a woman who wants only to work and be alone, blathers about the sublimity of art, tremblingly proffers his poems, and is crushed when, having initiated him into sexual love and given him excellent, if disillusioned, professional advice, Hadley deliberately antagonizes him and turns him out. Only much later does he learn that from the beginning she knew she was dying.

The story itself is perhaps a bit of a hype. (Why do fictional young writers always turn out talented, never give up and settle for the real estate business?) Yet since we must accept the characters as the author dated them, it must be said that Wersba's deft control of tone is remarkably convincing. The voice of the narrator and the character of Steven are unmistakably one, alternately naive, self-conscious, pretentious, and, yes, talented. This is not really a book about death (we feel the affair must have ended in any case). It is a perceptive look at "growing up literary."

Georgess McHargue, "For Young Readers: Love and Death," in The New York Times Book Review, January 4, 1976, p. 8.