Picks and Pans Review: Henry and June

updated 02/02/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/02/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Anaïs Nin

Although drawn from her 1931-32 unexpurgated journals, this is a very modern book about the sexual awakening of the author, a onetime fashion model and Spanish dancer. At 28, Nin became involved with novelist Henry Miller—and with Mrs. Miller. Henry was then 40 and about to burst onto the literary scene; his wife, June, was a disturbed woman whose beauty and charm seduced both her husband and Nin, while her neuroses left them with a mother lode of material to exploit in their writing. This book isn't for the overly judgmental. It's for those who are not threatened by eroticism and for the curious who may wonder how June could keep the love of the men—and woman—around her. She was in fact an enticing woman and a literary original with a brilliant mind; it is Nin's distinctiveness, however, that elevates this story above banal confession. She and the fascinating characters in her life betray themselves and each other, changing like the seasons before our eyes: "I walk into the chaos of June and Henry and find them becoming clearer to themselves and to each other. And I? I suffer from the insanity they are leaving behind." If Nin's sexual obsessions strike some as a roller-coaster ride, to her it was just "white-heat living.... Both Henry and June have destroyed the logic and unity of my life. It is good, for a pattern is not living." Nin is saved from her self-destructive delusions by a psychoanalyst, Rene Allendy, who himself is seduced by the author. Allendy tells Nin, "But one uses one's weaknesses. One can make something of them." If there is a fault in Henry and June it is that there are no sketches about the cast of characters, and no postscript. Readers are left to wonder how these brave souls resolved it all. (June Edith Smith divorced Miller in 1934, the year he published Tropic of Cancer, with money Nin provided; Anaïs, who went on to publish her 11-volume Diary, remained Henry's devoted friend.) The voyeurism of Henry and June is of the most enlightened sort. As Miller once wrote in a letter to the author: "In the hands of an ordinary individual the journal may be regarded as a mere refuge, as an escape from reality, as the pool of another Narcissus, but Anaïs refuses to let it sink into this mold." (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, $14.95)

From Our Partners