GENET: A BIOGRAPHY OF JANET FLANNER traces Flanner’s life from her middle-class beginnings in Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1892 through her rise as a world-class journalist and finally to her death in 1978 at the age of eighty-six. This biography is well researched and thoroughly documented. Indeed, Wineapple is plodding at times, but she seems to respect her subject too much to sensationalize her material or push forward any pet psychological theories concerning Flanner’s unconventional life. This may not make for a flashy biography, but it does make for a scholarly one.
Flanner’s early life was impacted greatly by the suicide of her father in 1912. As soon as she could, she escaped from the suffocating environment of middle America and the influence of her mother. In her autobiographical novel THE CUBICAL CITY (1926), Flanner constructs her own version of what drove her father to suicide and why she needed to be free of the environment into which she was born. She left Indianapolis by getting married and she left America by running off with her first great love, Solita Solano. Flanner and Solano--a writer and editor herself--went to Europe in search of “freedom” and “beauty.” Eventually settling in Paris, the two travelers were introduced to a world where literary and artistic history was being made. Paris in the 1920’s was the center of cultural life. Flanner met and became friends with Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Djuna Barnes, Kay Boyle, and many other leading writers and artists. In 1925, she began what was to be a fifty-year association with THE NEW YORKER. Under the pen name of Genet, Flanner transmitted her fortnightly letter from Paris. It was her assignment to report on what was going on in France. In her own enchanting and witty way, she was able to impart an accurate and very personal account of what she saw and heard. Flanner always tried to be as objective and precise as possible. In personal matters, she attempted to be discreet; but with the many lives that she had to juggle it was not always easy. Wineapple must be credited with writing a careful and caring biography of a remarkable woman.