Wednesday, 25 April 2012

"...is there enough sex in the story?"



The Oasis, McCarthy's second novel. was first published as the February 1949 edition of the British literary magazine Horizon, edited by Cyril. Connelly, who called the book " beautifully written and intelligently thought and felt." And who also asked McCarthy in a letter, "Do you think there is enough sex in the story? With all those contraceptives they seem to make precious little use of them."
A brutally satiric roman a clef , The Oasis focuses on a disparate group of liberal/leftist intellectuals who attempt to create a utopian colony in rural Pennsylvania, just as the Iron Curtain is coming down and the prospect of  nuclear annihilation is becoming a real threat.
When it appeared in the U.S. a few months later, the novella caused a minor storm among McCarthy's friends. Her former lover, the critic and editor of Partisan Review Philip Rahv, was so incensed  by the caricature of him, Will Tab, that he tried to halt its publication, initiating a lawsuit alleging 132 violations of his rights. He may have been dissuaded from pursuing the case by his friend and co-editor, Dwight MacDonald, who reminded him that in order to win, Rahv would have to prove that he was Will Taub."'Are you prepared to make that kind of a jackass of yourself?'" he wondered. At the same time, Hannah Arendt, who later became McCarthy's closest friend, wrote to her: "I just read The Oasis and must tell you that it was pure delight. You have written a veritable little masterpiece."


RL. You said recently that “…to be a novelist you have to have this alert social thing.” Regarding ‘The Oasis’, was this the moment when you became more interested in social interaction, from a political perspective, as the subject for a novel?

MM. I think many writers begin with short stories because a novel sometimes seems too big a project to undertake, but there wasn’t one definite moment. I’d always been attracted to exploring the idea of social justice and when I began work on ‘The Oasis’, the novel was really the only suitable form. To write a novel, I think you have to have quite a bit of experience, to know how different kinds of people behave and to be able to judge them. Politically, I’ve never really understood why people saw my treatment of all those liberal-left characters as so destructive. That old picture of me as a sneering satirist with an acid tongue is utterly stupid! What I really wanted to do was to provoke some sort of political re-thinking on the left, about the problem of trying to live up to your principles. ‘The Oasis’ wasn’t really an attack on the theory of utopias, but more about the failure of the wrong people trying to put them into practice. And yet the right people probably wouldn’t have made it work either, because of the nature of utopianism, I suppose – various projects have proved the impracticality of those types of ideals.
But, for me as a novelist, it’s more than a social thing - I sometimes see a novel as a kind of testing ground for different principles. Take ‘A Charmed Life’ for instance – I was very interested in exploring the difficulty of maintaining personal ethics in a skewed social environment – New Leeds – built on the shifting sands of moral relativism. In the end Martha’s downfall is not because of her ex-husband but because she pays the price for not standing by her own principles.