Picks and Pans Review: Difficult Women

updated 02/21/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/21/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

by David Plante

For starters, a drunken Jean Rhys says to the author: "All of writing is a huge lake. There are great rivers that feed the lake, like Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. And there are trickles, like Jean Rhys. All that matters is feeding the lake.... Nothing else is important." Rhys was a writer first admired in the '20s and '30s for her novels and short stories. But by the time Plante, a novelist of some literary distinction, met her in London, she was old, sick and probably an alcoholic. Plante helped her with her autobiography, the last thing she wrote before she died in 1979. Another Plante profile is of Sonia Orwell, widow of George. She was a wealthy, irritable woman who helped Rhys because she saw herself as a rescuer of artists. Plante invited Orwell to visit him in Italy and seemed to dread every minute of her company. But he was fascinated by her unhappiness. And finally there is Germaine Greer, Australian-born author of The Female Eunuch and other early-modern feminist writings, who went to Oklahoma to set up a department of women's studies at the University of Tulsa. Plante was there as a writer in residence. He had visited her in Italy, and they shared a Thanksgiving holiday in Santa Fe. All of these women were not only difficult—they were awful to Plante. He courted them, he admits, because of their literary connections, and he worships literary lives. This most original book has its shocking, disgusting moments, but the reader will be as fascinated by this odd trio as was Plante. (Atheneum, $9.95)

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