The Houdini of Talcottville

There are three ways in which the word "magician" may be applied to the critic and author Edmund Wilson: in his relationship to the printed word, in his relationships with women, and, more literally, as a straightforward reference to the fact of his having been a lifelong student and practitioner of "magical" tricks. All three senses of the term are met with and explored in this memoir by his daughter, and indeed all three are shown to be not just inseparable but closely intertwined.

This is an interesting, generous, dignified, touching, and finally rather sad book by a woman who, without complaining, nevertheless suggests by indirection a life—her own—scored strongly by loneliness and disappointment. Rosalind Baker Wilson was born in 1923 to Mary Blair, the distinguished actress and first wife of Edmund Wilson. Although the couple was married seven years, they remained separated during the last five of these: "The only times I ever saw my parents together," Miss Wilson writes, "were during the few minutes they visited when he dropped me off at her apartment [in New York City]." The child Rosalind had been delivered in her maternal grandmother's house in Red Bank, New Jersey, and went on living there for most of her childhood. "I stayed in Red Bank because my mother became tubercular; my grandmother felt, 'Rosalind is my child.' For the next twenty-eight years, my...

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