Saturday, September 12, 2015

Margaret Millar

Margaret Millar has been getting a great deal of press, some good, some bad. She's included in Sarah Weinman's new Library of America volumes, and she's getting some well-deserved publicity from that.

I'm reviewing her book in that anthology, Beast in View, for this blog. Beast in View won an Edgar for best novel in 1956. The central plot device shocked audiences with a little known psychological
phenomenon, but over the years numerous other authors have recycled this device. Repetition has dulled its edge, meaning few have equaled Millar’s original work. The plot is alarmingly simple. Evelyn Merrick has started a telephone campaign of terror against anyone who crosses her. Her specific wrath has been turned to the Clarvoe family which includes her childhood friend Helen who has become a hermit and Douglas, Evelyn’s ex-husband, who admitted his homosexuality to his former wife only after their marriage. The phone harassment leads to suicide and murder and a startling discovery in the last few pages.

The other attention she is receiving is less attractive. In the recent volume of correspondence between Ken Millar (Ross Macdonald) and Eudora Welty, it's Mrs. Millar who comes off looking like the beast. In the letters, it's very apparent that Welty and Millar are having an emotional affair. While their physical locations do not allow anything more, the editors of the volume downplay the significance of an emotional affair. Instead they want to portray Margaret as vindictive when she tells Welty that she reads the letters. However, it makes perfect sense in the light of emotional infidelity. 

By setting the parameters of cheating so narrowly, the editors seek to make Margaret the villain, when in fact she is merely a woman who is fighting for her marriage. 

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