This ’n That

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Beset by a stroke, a mastectomy, and an unexpected, character-assassinating book written by a once-beloved daughter, most women in their late seventies would quietly fade into their own twilight, justifiably muttering “enough is enough.”

Not Bette Davis. In the outrageously opinionated, down-to-earth style that has made her previous books and many screen performances so memorable, Davis reveals both the great courage and inevitable fear that attended her recovery from the back-to-back illnesses and her triumphant struggle to return to work.

Recounting the numerous tributes and awards with which she has been honored over the past decade, she uses the opportunity to recall the more meaningful moments of her earlier years: her tireless devotion to organizing and operating the Hollywood Canteen for servicemen during World War II, her relationships with numerous directors and co-stars (Joan Crawford, Olivia de Havilland, Willand Wyler, and Robert Aldrich are but a few of many honored by her sly scrutiny), her four failed marriages--for which she fairly weights both her husbands’ short-comings and her own.

Overriding all is Davis’s deep affection for Kathryn Sermak, the young woman who was her personal assistant for eight of the recent, difficult years, and without whose love and effort it is unlikely Davis would have recovered. With the grace of a true lady (albeit one who can drink, swear, and fight with the best of them), Davis reserves until the last pages of her book a response to daughter B.D. Hyman’s opportunistic, ultimately trivial potboiler MY MOTHER’S KEEPER. In checking her anger and anguish over Hyman’s book so effectively before releasing it with utter, naked honesty, Bette Davis gives one of the greatest performances of her life.