In my fantasy version of the Manhattan life I would lead after college graduation, my schedule was awash in endless cocktail parties with the Big Apple's wittiest and most literary. After toiling away the day doing whatever writers do all day, I would find myself standing in a corner enjoying a conversation with some famous intellectual or another. And I would prove myself so smart and fascinating at such a young age that this person would become my mentor, tell me the most personal stories about herself (or himself) in the hopes that I would learn from their career and life adventures. When I read HERE BUT NOT HERE, Lillian Ross's memoir about her unconventional relationship with William Shawn, Harold Ross's successor as editor of the New Yorker magazine from the '50s through the early '90s, I happened upon exactly the kind of personal conversation I had always wanted to have with somebody who has really charted some serious literary and life territory.
Shawn was married with a family when he and Ross set up housekeeping together. Like the famous relationship between Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, Shawn's marriage was not interrupted by his new coupling. Instead, the two New Yorker legends adopted a child together, and Shawn spent his days going between his wife, his mistress, and his beloved magazine for decades without somehow collapsing the three worlds into each other. Of course, he and Ross shared their passion for words at work, a safe haven for the two of them, where they were not judged for their liaison. They had a healthy and successful life together, better than most marriages. HERE BUT NOT HERE is a valentine to a love that was a real treasure as much as it was complex and hard to keep together.
Ross (whose book PICTURE is the ultimate behind-the-scenes look at the making of a major motion picture) is remarkable in her ability to bring home the most romantic, the most moving, the most personal details of her life in a way that makes us all feel like we are her friends. There is nothing sentimental about what she writes here --- rather, she lays open her full and knowledgeable heart to present us with a love story for the ages. HERE BUT NOT HERE is a beautiful book.
Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on April 3, 2001