In her interesting and helpful introduction to this novel Paula McLain writes, "I don't believe any of her (later) efforts matched the audacity, aplomb, and sheer literary merit of The Company She Keeps." I have not read enough of Mary McCarthy to be able to endorse this opinion but I certainly do not find it surprising. The courage, self-awareness and honesty of the then young author are very impressive.
The six stories which combine to form the structure of the novel reveal incidents in the early life of its heroine, Margaret Sargent, who defines herself as a bohemian and whose personality and emotions are brought into sharp focus. Her various relationships and encounters with men, are observed with forensic acuity, and described with wit and an alarmingly clear perception. They accumulate to give a disturbing picture of this modern young American. It seems that much is based on Mary McCarthy's own early experiences. The style, almost that of a dispassionate onlooker, maintains a distance and created a sense of objectivity. The novel captures significant episodes and allows the reader to determine the level of intensity. The heroine appears as an individual, rather than any kind of stereotype. Meg is determined, witty, politically involved, and an accomplished writer. Rather like her creator in fact!
But a far more sinister McCarthy was waiting in the wings and the reactionary United States of Richard Yates' Revolutionary Road was two decades away. Certain freedoms in behaviour may be more generally acceptable nowadays but I fear that freedom of thought is still at a premium. Conventions differ and behaviour that may have once seemed shocking is now perhaps commonplace. But the forces of reaction and repression are never very far away!
This very readable, often amusing, novel was initially published at the onset of the Second World War and may now seem to be rather dated. But it certainly has style!