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Memoirs of Hecate County

by Edmund Wilson

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498335,299 (3.53)43
Hecate is the Greek goddess of sorcery, and Edmund Wilson's Hecate County is the bewitched center of the American Dream, a sleepy bedroom community where drinks flow endlessly and sexual fantasies fill the air. Memoirs of Hecate County, Wilson's favorite among his many books, is a set of interlinked stories combining the supernatural and the satirical, astute social observation and unusual personal detail. But the heart of the book, "The Princess with the Golden Hair," is a starkly realistic novella about New York City, its dance halls and speakeasies and slums. So sexually frank that for years Wilson's book was suppressed, this story is one of the great lost works of twentieth-century American literature: an astringent, comic, ultimately devastating exploration of lust and love, how they do and do not overlap.… (more)

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A set of six tales with a common narrator and all situated in New England and New York. I liked the use of fantasy, restrained to the extent that it becomes realistic, mirrors those few moments of genuine oddness that we all seem to experience in our lives. There is magic here, but it's momentary, and leaves the characters guessing and second guessing long after we leave them. "Ellen Terhune" is I guess the most avowedly supernatural story, but its time-shifting spookery is handled so adroitly as to take the reader entirely unawares. I'd locate it between Henry and M.R. James's ghost stories - perhaps closer to Henry. The central piece, "The Princess with the Golden Hair", is quite objectionable in the chauvinism of its narrator and its predictability, but it's soaked in a weird sexual fever (it was banned for a while) that makes you keep reading. My favourite was "Mr. And Mrs. Blackburn at Home", but that's because I can't resist a good literary Satan, and here he speaks excellent French and much good sense. He is as good an Old Nick as I've read.

On the other hand, there is not much depth to these stories. If you don't care for the milieu, or Wilson's or the narrator's style, you will probably detest them. There's nothing groundbreaking about "Memoirs of Hecate County", but I found it surprisingly good. I must read some of his non-fiction. ( )
  yarb | Oct 8, 2015 |
I have a tremendous respect for Wilson the literary and social critic. I wish I couls say the same thing for Wilson the fiction-writer as represented in this book. There is a smug coarseness which troubles me throughout. It's one thing to create characters who are dyspathetic, but it is quite another for another to leave the impression, past the narrative itself, that a cold or even nasty mind has been at work. One a much lower level, it's an interesting comment on chganging values that HECATE COUNTY should have been highly controversial upon its initial publication. Compared to an hour of FOX-TV, this book is a Methodist sermon. ( )
2 vote HarryMacDonald | Mar 14, 2013 |
I'm afraid the best thing I can say about this collection of five stories and one long novella by noted critic Edmund Wilson is that I bought it at a remaindered price. The narrator for all the stories is a 30- or 40 something art historian who lives both in New York City and the fictional Hecate County, presumably a Connecticut suburb, in the 1920s and early 1930s. Although this was certainly a lively time, most of the stories present intellectual arguments about art, publishing, music, or politics, rather than introducing interesting characters in interesting situations; some even have supernatural touches. The novella, "The Princess with the Golden Hair," is notorious, because it got the book banned when it was published in 1946 due to what now seem tame descriptions of female anatomy; it is better than the stories in its presentation of characters from various walks of life but, unfortunately, they all seem designed to be symbolic, rather than real people, and i couldn't work up any sympathy for any of them, including the rather obtuse narrator. I ended up skimming the final two stories after the novella.

This is one of the very few NYRB books I have read that was a real disappointment.
3 vote rebeccanyc | May 13, 2010 |
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D'un tratto... in mezzo al silenzio... con uno schianto scoppiò il coperchio di ferro della bara e il cadavere si alzò. Era più pauroso delle prime volte. I suoi denti battevano terribilmente, le sue labbra si torcevano in convulsioni e con selvaggi sibili si sprigionavano gli scongiuri. Un turbine investì tutta la chiesa, le icone caddero in terra, volarono giù i vetri infranti delle finestre. La porta fu divelta dai cardini e una infinità di mostri irruppe a volo nella chiesa di Dio. Un chiasso infernale di batter d'ali e di strider d'artigli empì la chiesa. Gli spiriti infernali volavano e turbinavano cercando il filosofo dappertutto.

Nikolaj Gogol, Vij
[Da Tutti i racconti, trad. di Natalia Bavastro, Milano, 1959]
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In the days when I lived in Hecate County, I had an uncomfortable neighbor, a man named Asa M. Stryker.
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Hecate is the Greek goddess of sorcery, and Edmund Wilson's Hecate County is the bewitched center of the American Dream, a sleepy bedroom community where drinks flow endlessly and sexual fantasies fill the air. Memoirs of Hecate County, Wilson's favorite among his many books, is a set of interlinked stories combining the supernatural and the satirical, astute social observation and unusual personal detail. But the heart of the book, "The Princess with the Golden Hair," is a starkly realistic novella about New York City, its dance halls and speakeasies and slums. So sexually frank that for years Wilson's book was suppressed, this story is one of the great lost works of twentieth-century American literature: an astringent, comic, ultimately devastating exploration of lust and love, how they do and do not overlap.

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Banned on first publication, Hecate County is a memoir of American life in the Thirties, and of a young man drawn into the sexual adventures and madness of a closed community.
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