The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

May 27, 2016

May 27, 1999

Alice Adams (August 14, 1926 to May 27, 1999) was sometimes criticized for centering all her novels around one particular type of woman, a point repeated in her Los Angeles Times obituary. That fatuous criticism ignores the fact of accomplishment that any human type rendered insightfully represents.

The profile in question is the upper-middle class woman of intelligence and talent who is uneasy often.

A native of Fredericksburg, Va., who moved to California in the 1950s, Adams wrote 10 novels, including the best-selling "Superior Women," and five collections of short stories, many of which first appeared in the New Yorker....

Adams specialized in contemporary American relationships, particularly among urbane, white middle- or upper-middle-class women. She often was described as an old-fashioned writer whose books and stories read well because of their underlying qualities: "the Dickensian coincidence, the solemn omniscience, the sense of lives destined to intertwine," Sheila Weller wrote in Ms. magazine.

Adams was born in Virginia on Aug. 14, 1926, but grew up in Chapel Hill, N.C. Her father taught Spanish at the University of North Carolina and her mother struggled to be a writer.

She attended Radcliffe College, graduating when she was 19, and married a Harvard student, Mark Linenthal. They lived a while in Paris, then moved to San Francisco in 1948. The couple divorced in 1958, leaving Adams to raise their son, Peter,,,.

While struggling to earn a living through bookkeeping and secretarial work, Adams began to write seriously. Her first novel, "Careless Love," was published in 1966 to mixed reviews.

Almost 10 years passed before her next book came out. But "Families and Survivors," which followed two sisters through the the ups and downs of life over three decades, established her as a novelist.

Her breakthrough came in 1984 with "Superior Women," about the friendship of four young women forged during their years at Radcliffe. Often compared to Mary McCarthy's novel "The Group," which followed eight women through Vassar College in the 1930s, Adams' work traced the lives of her characters beyond graduation and showed how they were affected by political and social currents, from civil rights to Watergate.

Many critics admired the compactness of Adams' writing, a talent that served her well in short stories. Critic Katha Pollitt, writing in the New York Times Book Review, said the typical Adams story "announces itself in the very first sentence as a thing of edgy wit and compressed narrative power."

Twenty-two of her stories appeared in O. Henry Awards collections, as well as in several volumes of "Best American Short Stories." Adams also was the recipient of an Academy and Institute Award in literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.

Much of her fiction took place in San Francisco, her adopted hometown. Cyra McFadden, a Bay Area novelist and journalist who knew Adams for 20 years, said so many of her characters "lived here and inhabited their houses and their social circles so vividly [that] you half expected to meet them at the next dinner party you went to--the one given by the well-heeled, deeply unhappy hosts."

Her writing was not autobiographical per se, although a constant theme was the complexity of friendships. Novelist Diane Johnson, who knew Adams for 30 years, said that although she had a reputation for being difficult, Adams was a "powerful friend" who took nothing in relationships for granted.

Her 1988 novel "Second Chances," about a group of long-time friends facing the onset of their 60s and the stigma of old age, also reflected a personal preoccupation: Adams' realization that she was nearing 60 herself.

Alice Adams also wrote poetry. Emily Fragos edited The Great Cat: Poems about Cats (2005).  She includes a couple by Adams, including "To See You Again", and "As You were saying."

We like this photograph of Alice Adams:

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