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Miss MacIntosh, My Darling

Miss MacIntosh, My Darling

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This novel is one of the most ambitious and remarkable literary achievements of our time. It is a picaresque, psychological novel--a novel of the road, a journey or voyage of the human spirit in its search for reality in a world of illusion and nightmare. It is an epic of what might be called the Arabian Nights of American life. Marguerite Young's method is poetic, imagistic, incantatory; in prose of extraordinary richness she tests the nature of her characters--and the nature of reality. Miss MacIntosh, My Darling is written with oceanic music moving at many levels of consciousness and perception; but the toughly fibred realistic fabric is always there, in the happenings of the narrative, the humor, the precise details, the definitions of the characters. Miss MacIntosh herself, who hails from What Cheer, Iowa, and seems downright and normal, with an incorruptible sense of humor and the desire to put an end to phantoms; Catherine Cartwheel, the opium lady, a recluse who is shut away in a great New England seaside house and entertains imaginary guests; Mr. Spitzer, the lawyer, musical composer and mystical space traveler, a gentle man, wholly unsure of himself and of reality; his twin brother Peron, the gay and raffish gambler and virtuoso in the world of sports; Cousin Hannah, the horsewoman, balloonist, mountain-climber and militant Boston feminist, known as Al Hamad through all the seraglios of the East; Titus Bonebreaker of Chicago, wild man of God dreaming of a heavenly crown; the very efficient Christian hangman, Mr. Weed of the Wabash River Valley; a featherweight champion who meets his equal in a graveyard--these are a few who live with phantasmagorical vividness in the pages of Miss MacIntosh, My Darling. The novel touches on many aspects of life--drug addiction, woman's suffrage, murder, suicide, pregnancy both real and imaginary, schizophrenia, many strange loves, the psychology of gambling, perfectionism; but the profusion of this huge book serves always to intensify the force of the central question: "What shall we do when, fleeing from illusion, we are confronted by illusion?" What is real, what is dream? Is the calendar of the human heart the same as that kept by the earth? Is it possible that one may live a secondary life of which one does not know? In every aspect, Miss MacIntosh, My Darling stands by itself--in the lyric beauty of its prose, its imaginative vitality and cumulative emotional power. It is the work of a writer of genius.

1198 pages, Hardcover

First published December 1, 1965

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About the author

Marguerite Young

15 books59 followers
Marguerite Vivian Young was an American author of poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and criticism. Her work evinced an interest in the American identity, social issues, and environmentalism.

Her first book of poetry was published in 1937, while she was teaching high-school English in Indianapolis. In that same year, she visited New Harmony, Indiana, the site of two former utopian communities, where her mother and stepfather resided. She relocated to New Harmony and spent seven years there, beginning work on Angel in the Forest, a study of utopian concepts and communities.

Angel in the Forest was published in 1945 to universal acclaim, winning the Guggenheim and Newberry Library awards. Over the next fifty years, while maintaining an address in New York's Greenwich Village, she traveled extensively and wrote articles, poetry, and book reviews for numerous magazines and newspapers. She was also renowned as a teacher of writing at a number of venues, including the New School for Social Research and Fordham University.

Marguerite Young's epic novel, Miss MacIntosh, My Darling, was informed by her concept of history and pluralistic psychology, as well as her poetic prose style with its many layers of images and languages.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 55 reviews
Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,219 reviews9,927 followers
March 31, 2016
My brain hurts, my brain hurts - hold the front page, my fellow scrabblers at the coalface of literature, I think I may have found the worst book in the world. An achievement of sorts, you must agree. Anyway, for now Miss Macintosh, My Darling is the GOLD STANDARD of total crapness. Future terrible novels will be rated thus : this novel scores 5.4 on the MMMD scale.

They call it oceanic. It’s actually diarhhoeic. It took her 18 years to write. Excellent. Never wrote another novel. Even more excellent.

I will give you an idea of what lies within these pages:

The great, sea-blackened house with golden spires and cornices and towers peeled by the salt air, dark allees, hidden interiors, the drawing rooms where the hostess had not set foot for many years, as many drawing rooms as the tideless years, the rooms too many for mortal use, chambers within chambers, the gilded mirroring ballrooms where no one danced, the hangings of scaly gold and rain-stained velvet, the heathen monsters everywhere, the painted, clouded ceilings illuminated by partial apparitions of the gods, the silken, padded walls, the ropes of rusted bells, the angels and the cherubim and the immortal rose, the dream of heaven, the lily-breasted virgins sporting in fields of asphodel, the water-gurgling gargoyles or those coated by dust, the interior and exterior fountains, the broken marble statues in ruined gardens sloping towards the sea, the disc throwers, the fat cupids, the thin psyches with flowing curls, the mute Appollo Belvedere, the king’s horsemen, the life-sized chessmen seeming to move against the moving clouds that moved above the moving waters, the sea light lighting their wooden eyes, the seagulls perched like drifts of snow upon their heads.

It seems no one mentions that mostly Marguerite Young is just channelling Edgar Allen Poe with a large dollop of HP Lovecraft and a sprinkling of Aubrey Beardsley stirred in.

Heavily laden with jewels as a Greek corpse, my mother, she who had retired from the brutal world, whose eyes were shielded against the vulgar sunlight, slept for tideless years which were her vast excitement, surrounding herself with a world of dreams, visions, phantoms, her bedroom filled with visitors as Grand Central Station, some from the shores of Hades, voices of the dead, faded movie stars of the silent flicker films, spirits like long-nosed bird dogs (and another huge list of imaginary people and critters thronging her mother’s Grand Central Stationlike bedroom).

This is not writing, it’s vaporising by someone who really really wants to write an epic novel but doesn’t know how and hasn’t actually done anything except sit in a room wanting to write a big novel.

One of her fans, Deanne Sole in Popmatters, says that repetition was one of Miss Young’s techniques and within a random five pages she finds the following:

He had heard the cloud-burst … snowflake falling through a cloud … an alphorn blowing through clouds … fogs and waters and rolling clouds … Dog star in the rolling cloud … blowing his horn in the clouds … faded in distant thunder clouds … The cloud upon the face of beauty was beauty itself. So he would never lift the cloud … mountain tomb or cloud citadel … into waters and clouds … when the clouds creaked … find her way through the heavy winds and clouds …

And she adds :

Around the clouds, clouds, clouds, there are moons, moons, moons and fog, fog, fog

Now, this is a fan speaking…. She calls this technique “experimental daring”. Other less well-disposed readers might instead characterise it as “inept” or “dreadful” or “amateurish”. Lyrical and incantatory, they call it. But you may call it “like to drive you out of your mind”. I am in awe of anyone who has read all of book one, never mind book two. No, cancel the awe. I think they need to see someone.

The story consists of a woman on a bus thinking about her mother who lies in bed dreaming about imaginary people. The mother is probably dead. Most people in the book probably do not exist. But whether the characters exist or don’t is kind of beside the point here. The whole of human experience is kind of also beside the point. This is a woozy wordy never use one word where 500 will do dream. It’s a dream about a dream, lasting 1000 pages. There is no dialogue. None at all. There are three-page-long paragraphs.

The fairly few opinions you can find about this novel are 95% favourable. There’s a cult. The cult members say this novel has been unfairly ignored. But I say it has been very fairly ignored, very politely ignored, by the vast majority. Readers have stepped round this novel. If they have ever heard of it, they have looked askance and moved carefully away. They are right to continue to do so.

But are the cult members completely wrong? Is this novel really – this is the main claim – daringly experimental? When I think of novels that did things differently, that tore up the rules, I think of Ulysses, Mrs Dalloway, The Sound and the Fury, Lolita, Moby Dick, The Mezzanine, Beautiful Losers – these novels I regard with awe and trembling; and others I find unreadable, say Infinite Jest or Speedboat or Finnegans Wake or (probably)The Recognitions – still – I can completely accept their bold originality. Perhaps MMMD is original insofar as no one else has produced 1000 pages of stunningly repetitive waffly nonsensical blathery dream-writing with no relation to anything like life as it has ever been lived. I wonder how many of these cult members have really read MMMD, or maybe they just spent a month skipping around reading a few pages here and there and got the jist and liked the idea of MMMD. I don’t usually impute base motives to literary enthusiasms.

Hmm – can this MMMD-bashing really be justified? Is it really really that bad? Try this :

She had cried outside many gates of stillness where only her own voice had cried back to her, bouncing like the echo, little doubt, or like a ball, and sometimes she had heard that echo of which there had been no voice as there had been no shadow of her, and she had knocked at many doors which had not opened to her knocking, and some said that she was only the shadow and thus did not recognize herself, for the shadow knew not the substance although the substance knew the shadow, and some said that there had never been a lady but this lady who was lost and wandering through mountain storms where wandered also the sails of yachts white as that snow through which they wandered from pole to pole — but how much more successful she had been in her failure than if only one door had opened to her knock.

Possibly I can see some readers able to accept MMMD in the spirit of high camp, to be set next to Pink Flamingos, or Jeff Koons art or Mommie Dearest or the Carry On movies; but not really because they all had a camp consciousness, they were playing for laughs; MMMD is more like Valley of the Dolls – Jaqueline Susann was completely serious when writing that lurid piece of rancid trash and her obliviousness to its awfulness enshrines it with lovers of camp as the real deal. In the same way, if you can take pleasure in a self-deluded self-obsessed one thousand page dream-novel of fantastic pretensions and no original ideas and a vocabulary that redefines the concept of turgidity then MMMD will be exactly what you need in your life.
Profile Image for Fionnuala.
792 reviews
March 29, 2018
I’ve never been so full of words as after reading this book, itself so very full of words.
And yet the words inspired by the reading are hard to grasp, they slip through my fingers, fly out of my grasp, flit away on the breeze of an afternoon, such an afternoon as is pleasantly spent turning the leaves of this book in a garden, beneath a tree, the sunlight stealing through the gaps in the canopy overhead dappling the page, causing the words to shimmer and shift, while the breeze, that same breeze, lifts a strand of my hair, whispers a kiss along the nape of my neck and, having cajoled me nicely, reaches in to snatch those word pictures forming in my head as I read, whisking them away and up so that they go twirling and swirling, separating and reforming, now a pair of butterflies circling each other in an eternal mating dance, now the lacey edge of a flowing skirt sweeping across the waving sands of a desert far away, shapeshifting in a mirage of heat into a masculine figure on horseback galloping off to disappear into a black speck, a speck that passes through a keyhole in the clouds and reemerges on the other side of the horizon astride the moon, a little stick person in men’s boots and a red wig who drops gently onto a New England beach and pokes at the flotsam with the tip of her umbrella, unearthing here a wedding ornament, there a funeral wreath, singing old sea-shell songs as she goes, crossing paths with a sad and black-cloaked angel toting an alpenhorn, weighty with the sins of the world, while a horizontal figure like a hibernating butterfly at one remove from life drowses away the years in a crumbling mansion with no north, accompanied by wraiths from all the ages, endlessly bidding farewell to the world, and a lonesome bus ploughs through the Iowa night with a phantom driver and three spectral passengers towards what cheer?
I may well ask.
What have I read? How has it been written? Does it cohere? Is coherence so vital?
Does beauty have to make sense? What’s on the other side of beauty? Can I contemplate it?
Am I repeating myself? Does repertition uncover new layers? Do lists constitute literature?
Will I read the second half of this million-word work? Does my love of words override my love of economy? How many ways can I ask the same question?
How can sublime sentences become nightmarish chapters? How can nightmarish chapters be made up of sublime sentences?
Will I ever succeed in understanding the essence of Miss Young’s writing, the buzzing, the hum as of a corpse beneath the envelope of the text? Has anybody ever succeeded in pinning down this phantasm of a narrative? If they have, should I search out their explanation of her word riddles?
But why should I, when I can read hers instead, her ignotum per ignotious, her mystery of the mystery, her search for the true in the false?
Why should you?
Profile Image for Vit Babenco.
1,468 reviews3,642 followers
March 31, 2022
Is the girl mad? Or is the world mad? Miss MacIntosh, My Darling is a saga of the mad girl living in the mad world…
I had peered into all faces, seeing none, only those who were already gone, only those who could not answer. My illness had been great, dead souls like the autumn leaves stirring where I walked, and could I have believed in the ultimate harmony, I could have been among them, but there had been only, in my narrow experience, the dream of chaos repeating chaos, so what I looked for always in the streets of those great harbor cities, was it not merely another illusion, that of the peace which should not be realized in heaven or on earth?

Repetitions, variations of thoughts and misconceptions, versions of events and dreams and nightmares: Marguerite Young constructs the impassable mazes of words until her narration turns into the simulacrum of hallucinations and delirium of paranoia…
Perhaps there might be beyond all modes of being a being without mode, point beyond the ultimate point, that eternal point where all lines converge, both beginning and ending, where there is no distinction, no individual, no image, no ego, no shattered memory, no mirror of consciousness, as there might be also an unknown land – land of infinite greyness…

Miss MacIntosh, My Darling is packed to the rafters with reminiscences – first of all it is reminiscent of The Book of the Dead; Genesis and Ecclesiastes, Revelation and Gospels and other books of the Old and New Testament; Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Bluebeard, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and other fairytales.
For one moment, it seemed that the moving waters stood still, and I could hear a sound as of harpers harping on those seas of glass which man shall behold at the end of time when the heavens are parted, when the sky rolls back like a scroll.

Naïve reverie, opium visions, split personality, chase after futile ideals: some live feeding on their illusions and some die of disillusionment…
Why was it said that God created us? We were created by the dragonfly dropping upon its silken cable line. We were created by the images of the uncreated creation. We were created by a falling star singing as it fell. We were created by a shadow moving where the shadow increased.

The world is a reality given to us to perceive in our madness…
Profile Image for Jonathan.
921 reviews979 followers
November 14, 2014

What a strange, bewildering, unheimlich novel this is. At times I felt as though someone was projecting Parajanov's The Color of Pomegranates on top of Bergmans' Winter Light, and I was being asked to watch and appreciate them both simultaneously.

So the question is, and a rather appropriate one it is too in light of the topics discussed below: how can a novel be both a success and a failure? How can it succeed even as it fails? For I do not think it possible to argue that this overflowing text "works" as a novel usually does - it certainly also contains long sections which fail to "work" by any standard one would usually apply to prose - and yet, somehow, it is impossible to judge it anything other than an extraordinary success. It succeeds in that it remains true, completely and unrelentingly true, to the artistic vision of its author. No consideration is given to a potential Reader, and the text is not concerned with readability or readerly enjoyment. I found at least 300 pages of it very hard going indeed, boring in fact, and yet I cannot see how they could be cut, nor would I consider suggesting you skip them. Perhaps Ms Young was right to state that she thinks it should have been published in 2 or three volumes, just to break things up a bit...

This text is doing many things, and part of what it is doing is a kind of thinking which exists somewhere between philosophy, spiritualism and narrative fiction. The closest analogy I can think of is The Death of Virgil, which is also a masterpiece.

I will ramble a bit about some of the many things this text is doing by way of some sort of review.


"What shall we do when, fleeing from illusion, we are confronted by illusion? When falling from illusion, we fall into illusion? Have we not deceived ourselves? Where was the real world?"

Our language, and, of course, our concepts, our ideas, our culture and our experience of Self, do not deal well with paradox or with multiplicity. The image above, for instance, is both a picture of a young woman and a picture of an old one at the same time (it is many other things as well – we see it as a "type", a "category" for instance – classed with other optical illusions).

In the preceding sentence I had to say that it was A+B, which maintains a separateness, a duality. What I cannot call it is an "AB", an "youngwomanoldwoman", and yet this is what it is (at least, that is one thing it is).

There is also the legendary "Double-slit experiment" - also quite wonderfully coincidentally known as "Young's Experiment". I will let someone much better than me explain it:


We see here the problems of a language not developed to deal with the quantum world...Light is not behaving like a particle or a wave, it is some third thing which is both and neither. We say "wave/particle duality" as a convenient short-hand for a more subtle truth.

If I describe a man as "boring", we instantly exclude the possibility in our minds that he may also be "interesting". If I tell you that someone was a dreamer, we would not expect also to be told they were a realist.

Any yet it is, in "reality", perfectly possible for both to be the case. A man can be a failure and a success, he can be an idiot and a genius, driven and apathetic, all at the same time. Something can behave like a particle and like a wave. Is a woman pregnant with a dead child a mother or not?

One can pursue the real through the imaginary. One can find truth in lies. The impossible, the fantastical, is a vital component of the possible and the mundane. The desire to categorize (and be necessity generalize) is fundamental to the human condition. It is also extremely dangerous. And extremely limiting.

And, of course, it is a small percentage of sentences in any novel that have a criterion to allow us to decide their truth value. So why would we even bother?

Werner Herzog once said this:

"We must ask of reality: how important is it, really? And: how important, really, is the Factual? Of course, we can’t disregard the factual; it has normative power. But it can never give us the kind of illumination, the ecstatic flash, from which Truth emerges. If only the factual, upon which the so-called cinéma vérité fixates, were of significance, then one could argue that the vérité—the truth—at its most concentrated must reside in the telephone book—in its hundreds of thousands of entries that are all factually correct and, so, correspond to reality. If we were to call everyone listed in the phone book under the name “Schmidt,” hundreds of those we called would confirm that they are called Schmidt; yes, their name is Schmidt.

In my film Fitzcarraldo, there is an exchange that raises this question. Setting off into the unknown with his ship, Fitzcarraldo stops over at one of the last outposts of civilization, a missionary station:

Fitzcarraldo: And what do the older Indians say?

Missionary : We simply cannot cure them of their idea that ordinary life is only an illusion, behind which lies the reality of dreams.

(the whole piece is well worth a read, and excellently translated here: http://www.bu.edu/arion/on-the-absolu... )

"the reality of dreams" is a pretty good subtitle for Miss Mac, as would "the dreams of reality" be as well.

Our author seeks to deal with this problem by constantly re-stating, constantly re-describing, in slight and subtly different ways, experience (both remembered and forgotten). The Reader carries all these descriptions with them, holding paradoxes in place due to the linear, temporal nature of our movement through the text. By this I mean that we are told A, then B, then AB, then C which contains parts of A and B, all of which allow for a character to exist in a state of permanent flux, in a state of paradox bouncing instantaneously between contradictory positions.

For instance, consider the following propositions:

1. David was cruel
2. David could be kind
3. David could be cruel
4. David was kind

The meaning of "kind" in respect to David in point (4) is modified by points (1)-(3). Points (2-4) modify point (1) retrospectively, and points (1-3) modify point (4) prospectively. The effect of the unmodified point (1) is therefore more powerful than the modified point (4), due to the order in which we read.

Each of the statements is a "fact" yet, in actuality, none is "true" independently from the other. What we would want to call the "reality" of David is all of these statements together.

Characters are described to us in novels, the events of their lives are set out before us, yet we are usually only directed along one path (we may jump around in time or in perspective, but there is usually a "truth" of the events and personages we are being shown). Young refused to be limited. If Self, if Being, is illimitable, then ones tracing of it must be similarly endless. One must describe something simple in terms of the ornate, something mundane in terms of the fantastical, one must conjure Arabian Nights in order to describe an English seaside bedroom.

Nothing in this novel is meaningless, though it is often nonsensical. There is the "bald truth" of Miss MacIntosh's head, and the fiery beauty of her wig. There is the beauty of purity and the beauty of the mongrel. There are angels and unicorns and ghosts and a thousand waking dreams.


What is the relationship between the nexus of meaning in Young's mind when the sentence was committed to paper, and mine when I read it?

Whatever your particular philosophical position will determine how you answer that question. Personally I do believe there is an Author/Reader connection – a particular mind has selected words which are part of our shared world, its games are familiar to me, I know the rules. Each word has an effect and, while this effect may differ from person to person from time to time, there is enough that remains in common for a guiding hand to be felt.

We can only speak, can only write, can only read, because we have already listened to language. Yes there is a part of language that is private, but there is also a part which must be shared.

Language is, as Heidegger taught us, "world-disclosure" – it structures our access to the world, our understanding of ourselves and of others (and of the world of things) is contained within language, is revealed to us by and through and with language. And we cannot step outside of this language-determined world to order to establish whether or not it is an illusion, whether or not it is "truly real". The way in which we understand something determines for us what that thing is. There is no escaping from this.

If one writes in full awareness of all this, what sort of novel would one produce?

Language is a life, is our life and the life of the things. Not that language takes possession of life and reserves it for itself: what would there be to say if there existed nothing but things said? It is the error of the semantic philosophies to close up language as if it spoke only of itself: language lives only from silence; everything we cast to the others has germinated in this great mute land which we never leave… language is not a mask over Being, but – if one knows how to grasp it with all its roots and all its folliation – the most valuable witness to Being." - Maurice Merleau-Ponty - The Visible and the Invisible (1968)

All that folliation is hard to grasp, impossible really. And without it any text is simply a partial witness, a flawed and incomplete witness, a misdirection, a failure. So every text cannot but be a failure. And the closer one comes to creating a success, the more unreadable it would become. It is therefore not surprising that this novel is as frustrating, as bewildering, as incomprehensible, as boring (yes, I challenge anyone not to have periods of slog between these pages) as it is. But that does not in any way stop it also being a work of genius, of brilliance, of unbelievable beauty and profound philosophical depth.

The novel calls for an acceptance of the reality of illusion, of the bald head beneath the beautiful red hair, to face and come to terms with the loss of solid ground, to allow the mind-built world to grow rampant and full of flowering, to risk the baroque, the ornate, the poetic in all things.


Critics of this novel often claim it is repetitious. As though this is somehow due to Young's failure as a writer - as if she lacked the imagination or literary ability to use a thesaurus. She is, however, writing in the wake of Stein, for a start. Here is a quote from The Making of Americans which I will let stand on its own:

" Every one is always repeating the whole of them. Always, one having loving repeating to getting completed understanding must have in them an open feeling, a sense for all the slightest variations in repeating, must never lose themselves so in the solid steadiness of all repeating that they do not hear the slightest variation. If they get deadened by the steady pounding of repeating they will not learn from each one even though each one always is repeating the whole of them they will not learn the completed history of them, they will not know the being really in them.

As I was saying every one always is repeating the whole of them. As I was saying sometimes it takes many years of listening, seeing, living, feeling, loving the repeating there is in some before one comes to a completed understanding. This is now a description, of such a way of hearing, seeing, feeling, living, loving, repetition.

Mostly everyone loves some one’s repeating. Mostly everyone, then, comes to know then the being of some one by loving the repeating in them, the repeating coming out of them. There are some who love everybody’s repeating, this is now a description of such loving in one.

Mostly everyone loves some one’s repeating. Everyone always is repeating the whole of them. This is now a history of getting completed understanding by loving repeating in every one the repeating that always is coming out of them as a complete history of them. This is now a description of learning to listen to all repeating that every one is always making of the whole of them."


This is also importantly a novel about Death, with a capital "D", and about Death-in-Life and Life-in-Death, about the way the world unfolds if one is willing to see the presence of Death in it at all times, when one admits that there is no duality here. There is an extraordinary section towards the end of the novel about stillbirth, and about the impossibly pre-born dead, the mother of a child without life, a cargo vessel empty of cargo...

And, speaking of Mothers, this is most certainly also a novel about them - about absent mothers, surrogate mothers, impossible mothers, imagined mothers, self-hating mothers and about simply Motherhood - that too-often-idolised state of Being in all its complexity and contradiction

The danger with this sort of thing (and a lot of the more metaphysical elements of the novel), of course, is that one can end up in New Age territory (something I have a very low tolerance for) and this novel certainly contains passages that would not be out of place on the wall of a shop selling healing crystals. But I can forgive it for that. It is worth reading a paragraph of wooly-minded spiritual pontification for a sentence of pure genius. At least, I think so anyway...

And so, in summation, you can probably tell from the above that this is an impossible novel - impossible to read, impossible to write about, impossible to forget. It is an extraordinary work of art, but one that is unlikely to appeal to most. However, I do think the first 300 pages at least are well worth giving a go, just to spend some time in this unique and stunningly beautiful prose. I can promise you that there is nothing else out there that can compare.


A Miss Mac Group can be found here: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/...

Lots of interesting and helpful stuff can be found therein.

Profile Image for Nathan "N.R." Gaddis.
1,342 reviews1,376 followers
July 22, 2016
It has been several weeks past now that I completed my initial reading of Marguerite Young’s Miss MacIntosh, My Darling. Reviewing it has been stymied. I’d really very much like to write something here that might convince you and many more besides to read her novel. I’ve now read all her prose work which managed to find itself published, and decry the fact that our literary world has left so much in the archive still. I’ve read as much as I could find which has been written about her. It is not much. She needs her Jack Green to her William Gaddis, but I doubt very much that I am up to the task. Many early reviews of Miss MacIntosh were as stultified as those of The Recognitions. She belongs among the Great Tradition of The Novel as practiced in the twentieth century.

What qualifies her novel is the fact that nothing else exists that is like this. The simple formula is “opium dream” but that is only the half, even less, being the portion in regard to Vera’s mother, The Opium Lady, whose fact is fiction and thereby more real even than your waking world. There is Mr Spitzer who does not know if it is he that lives while his twin brother died or whether he has died and it is his brother who lives. Cousin Hannah, the suffragette. Miss MacIntosh who once walked into the ocean and never returned. Esther Longtree, forever pregnant and birthing naught but the stillbirth’d. The bus driver. The bus. Characters. Nothing happens. Nothing can happen. But it all does.

This novel is huge. It comes to a close on page 1198 but does not end. What it does is render truth; the truth of experience which is simply too close for us to see it except as refracted in fiction, in art. But the rendering of experience is only the means of creating the experience. The truth is that there are here no concessions to The Reader because Ms Young’s fidelity, as is the case for any artist, is to the truth of this experience. There are no falsifications which would ease the stuff into a form already familiar. It is this fidelity to how it is which renders the novel strange; our expectations for falsification is here entirely frustrated. Beginning, middle, and end -- a narrative structure chop’d up into plot points is what I mean by falsification. Here we read experience directly, immediately.

Please do read Ms Young’s novel. Read it in its first edition hardcover which is a beautiful object. Read it with a leather bookmark. Read it at night. Read it one sentence at a time. Do not rush through it. Become immersed in it. Allow it to reside with you; sojourn within it for a year at a time.

“She would hang a sign in the restaurant window--Owt to luntsch. Bee bak in a whale. For she could not spell either.”

An older comment ::

Profile Image for woodshadows.
46 reviews6 followers
August 23, 2015
I became aware of this book while looking at Wikipedia's list of longest novels ever written (and published). After reading the description of it as an 'opium dream' I was intrigued, having loved all stream-of-consciousness modernist writing from Joyce to Faulkner.

I set about my task, to find a copy of this seemingly out of print book. Luckily people seem to be trying to unload the several lingering copies in existence for a very inexpensive price on any online retailer of used books.

A month later and a big heavy package arrives from the U.S. Inside are two softcover volumes, within a hard case. Volume 1 - 600 pages. Volume 2 - 1200 pages. Large dense pages, few paragraph breaks, this will take some time to get through but I am going to immerse myself in these mysterious writings, I am going to read it in 2 6 hour spurts per week as I work late at night as a security guard guarding a building which requires little watchfulness on my part.

So I have begun. I had to finish reading the Rainbow so had only a little chance to read up to page 47. My impressions thus far are manifold and sometimes contradictory. At time the refrain in the back of my head continues to pelt me with 'this is sheer brilliance', only to succeed to the thought of 'this is complete amateurish purple prose with little substance'. I have many images from these first fifty pages, a world is being created in my head, a world inhabited by ghouls and mirages, opium dreams indeed, as the writing uses poetic language, conflicting dualities and repetitious language to construct a world of madness in which ones foot is never on solid ground. After having read the rainbow with its mouthpiece philosophizing characters this is a change indeed, philosophy here is not hammered into you in fact there may be very little philosophy or only that which can be inferred from a story, like Joyce's Ulysses, which doesn't force philosophy down your throat with convenient character mouthpieces, but instead transmits ideas subtly through osmosis of perceiving character motivations and movements. This book seems to be about obsession, but I don't know whether I can speak confidently on that point just yet, only 50 pages in. I like obsession however, my girlfriend had a friend in her childhood, an older man who looked out for her, he became an expert on an obscure topic - scallops, devoted his life to the study of scallops, and not even scallops as a whole, but only one specific kind. He wrote several books about this one species of scallop, completely laser focused upon this one minute facet of the physical world. This book reminds me of this, an obsession with a lady, written by an obsessive lady, a testament to obsession, we shall see where this leads, hopefully with motivation and free time I will be able to update this further as I feel a sadness that such a valuable piece of writing has been so neglected, like a threatened species, I would like to offer my own little contribution to its continued existence, it doesnt deserve extinction.

March 3/2013 - Update:

I am now 250 pages in, I'm getting a far greater sense for where this book is going and what this book is trying to do. This is some twisted, dark writing, the stuff of a lunatics worst nightmare. Strange, such an innocent sounding title, written by a sweet old lady, Marguerite Young. Perhaps that is part of what makes it extra creepy and dark, that on the surface it seems like it will be so safe and innocent, perhaps if this were written by Poe or King it wouldn't be so shocking. But no, that isn't entirely true, it's the writing itself, the form it takes, the way it builds through free association, dream imagery, it's everything Joyce failed to accomplish with Finnegans Wake. Where Joyce attempted to mimic dream language through a play upon words, creating a wilderness of puns and portmanteaus, a landscape of incomprehensible nonsense, Young paints like an abstract artist with pictures of monsters and unicorns and lusts and fears, a canvas rich with meaning which one may not initially understand but which builds with each mounting page, each page crashing and cascading with ripple effect into a tidal wave of understanding. King might write the whore rapes the man while dancing wickedly upon the beach, this is upfront, he'll throw in some swear words, some sex, some creep factor, it's all very innocent ultimately because it's handed to you freely, the reader, filtered through the logic of the conscious mind. The writing in MMMD on the other hand, is subtle and hypnotising, it catches you unawares and reaches straight for your subconscious mind, bypassing your conscious mind altogether in many cases, no defense available to water down the substance of what you have read. There is a story here richly layered and creeping softly like death upon you as you read, the monotony of time ticking on as you are lulled into a receptive state. This experience is akin to ingesting hallucinogenic drugs, as you are reading you are lost in the uncharted territory of your subconscious, when you put the book down and return to reality you are changed forever. This is a book that can be life changing. I don't know that I love this book, but I know that it's something special and I am curious to see how I will feel about it as the pages roll by.. after all, I am only 250 pages into a 1700+ page book, long, dense pages, few paragraph breaks, walls of text, speed reading almost impossible with the density of prose.

March 17/2013 - Update:

Volume 1 finished. I also realize now that I look at volume 2 that though volume 2 ends on page 1200 or so, it actually begins on the page count following the last page of volume 1.. therefore I only have about 600 pages left, meaning I'm halfway through, meaning an enormous sigh of relief as what I thought was another 1200 pages to read is actually only 600. Now that I am halfway through my perceptions have changed (of course). I think as with tv shows, where the creative limitations of a focused subject begin to see the wear of time upon them, the so-called 'jumping the shark phenomenon', so with long books like this, once the initial spark of creativity has exhausted itself the remains are just spent fuel smouldering on, long past their powers to warm and inspire. What I mean is, at a certain point, I'd say around the time cousin Hannah was introduced, this book became a chore to read and less a pleasure. The meandering narrative which seems to call to the front lines as many adverbs and adjectives as can reasonably be used to stretch a simple sentence into two pages worth of rambling, can be very trying on a readers nerves, especially as the same words continually pop up - 'fireflies' 'starfish' 'pearl divers' 'starlight' 'twinkling' 'great suffragette'.. amongst many others. Again I am where I began, brilliance or purple prose, I can't decide, it's definitely a mix of both. At times I really begin to wonder whether insecurity was the great inspirer of this author, trying so excruciatingly hard to prove herself through use of expanded metaphor, expanded vocabulary, as if she scoured thesaureses to try to find as many possible convoluted ways to describe the same thing ten thousand times in the course of hundreds of pages. A simple description of a simple event ends up creating a ripple effect of page upon painful page of restating the same thing several times in several different ways, kind of like what I'm doing here, like the poor writer that she and I am can't be content with a simple stating of idea but instead must keep repeating it over and over and over, so afraid that the reader might not fully understand exactly what is trying to be conveyed, except in her case she veers into so many flights of literary fancy that it's really maddening at times. I have to admit reading this for 6 hours straight two days in a row was one of the most painful self-lacerations I've ever exposed myself to, this is a cruelty which only the most masochistic of readers should undertake to read, be warned! It's also A+ for bragging rights though, so that has to be worth something right? It has all the elements for a bragging rights novel. It's obscure, read by very few people in its entire history, it's difficult to read, both for length, boredom of subject and some of the vocabulary and metaphors may be difficult for the majority of people. It's also super creepy and messed up. All the elements a person might wish to have for the very best bragging rights book ever invented. After all, you didn't think I actually read this just for the sake of trying to support a neglected artist or to 'expand my mind', heck no, I want all the glories of the ego which this brutalistic reading experience can bring.

April 2/2013 - Update:

For someone with not a lot to say, she sure does say it in many different ways. I think humans, even in the age of word processors, simply do not have the capacity to write long meaningful works of fiction. Weaving a universe which is cohesive, a plot line which flows in an interesting way, or even some semblance of narrative, is nigh impossible for the human brain. Just think of the time and effort required to proofread ones own essay, 10 page let's say. Such proofreading requires enormous time and effort to make sure everything is just right. Now let's look at a work of fiction (as opposed to an essay which generally is written about something concrete and tangible), one which runs on for 1200 pages. Given that reading such a work requires numerous days to accomplish, the task of editing/proofreading, is going to be very sloppy and imperfect. When I am proofreading a 10 page essay I read the entire thing from start to finish to experience how it sounds in my head, but in the case of a 1200 page work such a task isn't really feasible forcing the author to instead focus upon chapter by chapter at best. Likely this is why such works rarely give the feel of a cohesive work, they instead feel like little vignettes strung together. This novel, for the uninitiated, runs for about 400 pages and within that span contains an interesting little 'story'. After those 400 pages the reader is served a heaping 400 page portion of (imo) rubbish, the same two little ideas repeated ad nauseum. I don't think it would be much of a spoiler to mention them here. Two rather minor (at least relative to the standpoint of the protagonist of this 'book'), are examined up close, not really ever exploring their characters, more using them as focal points for poetic license, the author writing in giant flights of (mind numbingly boring) fancy. Mr Spitzer, the brother of the dead husband of the crazy mother, who we are told never knows whether he's alive or dead, since his twin brother is dead and he is sometimes confused for the dead brother. This (uh, super 'deep' 'philosophical' idea) is repeated over the course of about 200 pages at least. The other person is cousin Hannah.. the (I think..) cousin of the crazy mother, who has been introduced for the purpose of discoursing at great length about how she is a great champion of feminism. These aren't even horrible ideas in themselves, these could be explored in interesting ways, but the author only rarely gets at the core of anything, instead preferring to write huge swathes of prose with no bearing upon anything. She may go on a 20 page jaunt about cousin Hannah spending time with Julius Caesar, unicorns, rainbows, Arabs, in tents, in India. The author is trying to eek out every last drop of her vocabulary upon paper, in some insecure bid to prove that she has literary worth. In any event, after that horrible 400 pages in which the reader really must practice extreme fortitude to persevere through, finally one arrives on the other side for what seems to be the final 400 pages, which has now finally come back to the main narrative. A 400 page digression in between, with little worth, even less relevancy, is what really sabotages this novel for me, it's unforgivable. I really was expecting the entire time "surely this must end after 20 pages, a little diversionary narrative departure', but alas no, it continues for about 400 pages. It remains to be seen how this final 400 will run, so far it's been okay, I have about 290 pages left of this novel in total, so I am looking forward to the conclusion so that I can get back to GOOD reads.

April 13/2013 - Update:

Two hundred pages talking about a waitress and her proclivity for having miscarriages in rapid succession. This waitress was introduced as the main character happened to enter a cafe of some sort. This book is my punishment for trying to be a mister smarty pants, mister hardcore reader reading the big weird long books that no one has ever heard about. My punishment to have spent this month and a half reading entirely pointless drivel. Anyways, for the lazy review-reader I leave you a petty and evil little gift, a 5 star rating, to hopefully induce you into also reading this and suffering the same fate I did.
Profile Image for Christopher Robinson.
173 reviews77 followers
November 28, 2019
Phenomenal. Singular. Achingly beautiful prose that winds on and on and on, never diminishing in intensity of tone or imaginative power. Maybe it’s too long, too slow moving, the author too obsessed with cataloguing every little detail of her characters’ lives... but then, maybe the reviewers that feel or felt that way should just pick up another book, forget about Young and the incredible fictional universe she has rendered and showcased here. Indeed, this is the kind of book you know you’ll either passionately love or deeply despise within the first 50 pages of reading, less even. If you don’t like what it’s doing or how it’s going about spinning its odd tale within the first few chapters, you’re definitely not going to like what it’s doing 500 pages in. Because what it does on page 50, it does on page 500... page 1000... it repeats, it retells, it expands upon what came before seemingly infinitely. Yes, there really are roughly 400 pages of mopey Mr. Spitzer brooding about the death of his twin brother, about the bedridden and be-drugged mother of the book’s narrator, about frog funerals and his silent musical compositions and all sorts of other odd things. Yes, there really is, late in the book, a very long string of chapters detailing the sad, surreal tale of a small-town girl who is perpetually pregnant with stillborn children, over and over, locked into a miserable and puzzling loop of biological malfunction. And yes, Yes, SUPER-YES, I’d read it all over again, would read even more of it if more of it existed, and joyously so. But alas, it doesn’t, and these miraculous 1198 pages are all we have.

Miss MacIntosh, My Darling is undoubtedly one of the greatest, strangest works of literature I’ve ever had the pleasure to read. I’m amazed that it was published in America at all, let alone by a major publishing house, and what’s more given a wide and enthusiastic release by said publisher. This novel is a testament to the power of one woman’s literary gifts, incredible imagination, singular vision and the endurance required to see a project of this magnitude through to the very end. There’s nothing else quite like it, at least not that I’ve found. (And if there is anything else like it, please tell me about it because I want to read it!)

Five stars all the way.
Profile Image for M. Sarki.
Author 18 books212 followers
March 20, 2016

"He is but as the stubble of the field, and yet he has no beard."

My completed study of this epic novel spanned fifteen months beginning in January of 2015. Almost immediately upon beginning to read I recognized Marguerite Young’s genius and realized I would not be able to retain in my body her beautiful words while conducting what has become for me a typically recreational enjoyment. I decided I would have to instead devour this 1198 page work in increments of two to four page sittings. What struck me throughout these many months was her fierce attachment to her artistic vision. There seemed to be no consideration for her reader at all other than her implied promise to keep true to her subjects as well as her unrelenting gaze held steadfast on the object of her dream. And though I did enjoy the entire text in the greater sense of art, the immensity of my love centered on her unwavering dedication to her never-ending dreamscape. It was simply amazing how she never once veered from the tone she established on the very first page, and how she kept it all together for the seventeen years it took to complete the novel to her satisfaction.

I consider this novel as being one very long, distinguished and sophisticated, lyrically beautiful, poem. And it matters not the speed in which one reads it either, or where a stray but personal thought might take us within Young's text. For me it is all an elaborate digressive dream. Such a beautifully written book. Not one word wasted, though many. Often I felt I was going nowhere reading her, but nonetheless I remained endlessly, and happily, trapped inside her marvelous hallucination. But it was never easy, only palatable because of my discipline for humanely consuming only two to four pages each day. It also occurs to me how remarkable the many years of diligent and exhausting research she must have conducted to achieve this great, and believable, work. There is no way any one person, especially a writer, could possibly be this knowledgeable about our lives which include the mundane and countless nuances coming from every walk of life. In the extreme seclusion of pen and paper, a writer often fails to share in many of the common experiences she might indeed write about. But in fact I did believe and trust in her, though I knew in time we might both be hallucinating. And there was never a sign or hint of any hidden agenda so often discovered in our latest contemporary works. Just Young’s extremely joyful delight in language and her learning about history and the past and present worlds drifting at times all around us.

This novel certainly is not for everybody. And the proof can be seen in all the abandoned attempts of others attempting to read her. But for those of us who can give her a mere two to four pages a day of our time the task is well worth it. She labored hard for seventeen years on this grand eloquence, and then gave us the easy part, though she probably never cared.
Profile Image for Geoff.
444 reviews1,232 followers
Want to read
September 28, 2014


& here is her charmingly unostentatious signature on the front flyleaf


which I thought might be a bit too unostentatious to be legit, until I did a search and found this, which confirmed the signature and also is a wonderful little document all on its own, the manuscript first page:

Profile Image for ReemK10 (Paper Pills).
177 reviews49 followers
December 24, 2019
I just read The Most Widely Unread Book Ever Acclaimed!!

I read Miss Macintosh My Darling because I  needed a marathon to run.I needed a mountain to climb. Being that it has been years since I've climbed a mountain and highly unlikely that I'll ever walk a marathon let alone run one, I figured that this would be the best next thing.

It was.

Entering Marguerite Young's eccentric world was refreshing. Reading her haphazardly strung together sentences was energizing. Trying to make sense of what I was reading was futile. Instead I let myself be carried away, reading word by word, entertaining each thought independently, not demanding order from the chaotic world in front of me.

I decided that the best way for me to get through this read was to do a forensic reading. This required a lot of arrogance on my part thinking I could break Young's code. I couldn't, but I had a whole lot of fun along the way.

There is a lot of repetition in Miss Macintosh My Darling which had me thinking perhaps Marguerite Young was writing in arabesque, repeating themes and patterns, and having them meet and separate along the way.

 "I would say my theme has always been paradise lost, always the lost cause, the lost leader, the lost utopia. “Miss MacIntosh, My Darling” carries on this theme because Miss MacIntosh, with the loss of her wig, showed herself to be the orphaned angel, the asexual angel, neither male nor female, unable to live without her mask of illusions. Losing those illusions, she showed herself to be the denuded character every person would be if confronted with the loss of their illusions as she was. She is the central character with all the spokes of other characters radiating out from her. I always thought of Miss MacIntosh as the center of the wheel, the hub, then the spokes as the subsidiary, secondary characters, and the wheel as endlessly expanding like a universe. " Marguerite Young

Nathan Gaddis suggests that we: Read it in its first edition hardcover which is a beautiful object. ( I did) Read it with a leather bookmark. (I didn't have one) Read it one sentence at a time. Do not rush through it. Become immersed in it. Allow it to reside with you; sojourn within it for a year at a time.

I read it in 10 weeks, reading sometimes in small bites, at other times, a hundred or so pages, then putting the book down for a few days.

Read it however way it works for you.

@genese_grill and @hfan50 were my reading buddies. I was so happy to be reading with such heavyweights.

From @hfan , I learned  that Young worked on this book for 18 years. Every day from 6 pm to midnight.

One has to respect that, and to read in awe as you realize that you're reading a book like no other. What Young was able to do for 1198 pages is mesmerizing. Who doesn't want to enter an opium dream?

For those critics who denounced the novel as "undisciplined and unreadable ", they might instead have considered it experimental and adventurous.

"Around page two hundred, the warnings about the book begin to seem less hysterical. The novel is not demanding in any conventional sense: it contains no footnotes, no structural gimmicks, no compendious digressions. What it does require is attention of the kind that Americans often find most difficult: the stoic focus needed for meditation—or for driving into the infinite horizon of the heartland. The reader is less likely to throw the book down in a fit of disgust than she is to be lulled into a theta state, a highway hypnosis induced by page after page of incantatory prose. Monologues last for hundreds of pages. Sentences are repeated with subtle, endless differences, reiterating paradoxes: “And his night was his day, and his day was his night, for his twilight was his dawn, and his dawn was his twilight, and his moon was his sun, and his sun was his moon, and his beginning was his end, and his end was his beginning.”
by languagehat 

Reading, I learned that Marguerite had a thing for the Middle East, for the Arab and the turbaned Turk, the Persians and the great Shahs, Buraq and Muhammad the Prophet, al Sirat and the Moslem paradise, for the month of Ramadan, for the cocooned women of the East, for the harem, the veil, the Moor and the Arabian horse. Young always wanted to travel to the Middle East!!

24 pages matching Arab in the book.
79 pages matching white in the book.
79 pages matching black in the book.
75 pages matching shells in the book.

Perhaps inspired, Miss Macintosh My Darling  was in fact described as "It is an epic of what might be called the Arabian Nights of American Life."

I also learned that it was Roethke and not Rothko ( face palm) who asked Marguerite to meet him at 4pm in the lobby of a hotel in Indianapolis so that he would marry her. It was her first time meeting him. Being ignorant, I did not know that Theodore Huebner Roethke was an American poet regarded as one of the most accomplished and influential poets of his generation. Reader, she didn't go.

During my read, I was fortunate to learn from the very modest David Thomas who wouldn't really tell me who he was although he did reveal that he had exchanged letters with Anais Nin, Young's longtime friend and fellow novelist! David Thomas @vanya42st also referred me to David O. Dowling's "A Delicate Aggression: Savagery and Survival in the Iowa Writers' Workshop where there is a whole chapter devoted to Marguerite Young. I also learned that Young wrote under the tutelage of none other than Gertrude Stein!

"Young had sat at her feet in Chicago working toward a master's degree in 1936, drawing confidence from the example of her radical individualism and unbridled creative expression. "

"Everything that I was ever to be or become was in those Chicago years."

Marguerite Young on Gertrude Stein: "I like her. She did not influence  me in any way, but she wrote a novel called Marguerite in which she explained me. She wasn't writing about me, she just defined the meaning of the name Marguerite, and it was true of everything she wrote about me."

As you read keep in mind that Marguerite Young was raised to believe that she was the reincarnation of her dead cousin, Little Harry!! This may help.

The Charles Ruas interview of Marguerite Young is not to be missed: http://clocktower.org/show/marguerite...

Miss Macintosh My Darling is a hypnotic text.

Nona Balakian declared: "Only an American could have written it."

The Washington Post: " At three quarter of a million words, not only is it by far the longest, it is also the barest of incident, the most demanding of its readers' patience, and the slowest (to date) to win approval from critics or academia."

Marguerite Young: "All my writing is about the recognition that there is no single reality.  But the beauty of it is that you nevertheless go on,walking towards utopia, which may not exist, on a bridge which might end before you reach the other side."

You will read and feel " rudderless, abandoned, lost, blown around in the cruel winds", but it will be worth it!

Happy reading!

#MissMacIntoshMyDarling #MargueriteYoung #MYoung2019
Profile Image for Thomas.
457 reviews69 followers
February 9, 2017
if you like long, repetitive, poetic sentences and a total lack of interest in plot then boy have i got a book for you. there's a 4oo page bit of just a guy fretting over his dead brother. the bus ride that starts on page 1 doesn't end until page 900 or so. theres also a great bit with a mute guy who keeps a singing frog in his mouth to talk with, and they have a very sad funeral for the frog when it dies.
Profile Image for Kristian Svane.
8 reviews27 followers
August 14, 2018
Miss MacIntosh, My Darling is a psychological life-sentence of a novel whose characters must navigate life in the face of disillusion, maddening grief and trauma. The prose is engulfing, endless, transcending, and illuminates with astounding accuracy even the most dimly lit corners of existence, reality, life and death. It is bereft melancholy at large - and at this point in time, it is also my favourite work of literature. If ever a dream more astonishing, vivid and encompassing is to be endured, surely that dream is death itself. Alas.

“…a novel that in the profoundest sense does not exist.”
(~Melvin Maddocks in Christian Science Monitor, 1965).

From inside the beast itself:
“The conditions of mortal life were such that, for others as for herself, the dream must suffice, for reality bears with it always an aspect of fateful disappointment, of falling short, just through its being unreal, through its omissions of other realizations which had also trembled on the threshold of the jewel-framed door or were that contingent world one might have experienced by taking the other train through the other landscape.”
Profile Image for Mandel.
121 reviews11 followers
December 11, 2021
Only days after finishing this book, I know that it's one of my favorites of all time. It has immediately entered that short list of 'benchmark books': books that I know I will return to again and again as gauges of where I'm at in different times of life.

Many scathing reviews on here have said that MMMD is repetitive - drearily, soul-crushingly repetitive. There's a sense in which that's true. However, Young's repetitiveness is superficial. It's the literary equivalent of sitting and staring at a line of ants climbing a tree for hours on end. Most of us will never do such a thing, because what profit could there be in doing so? It's just the same damn thing over and over again. But if you actually do it (as I did once on a meditation retreat), you'll discover that this preconception is dead wrong, that this seeming monotony was just the cluelessness of a scattered, impatient, inattentive mind.

In one sense, MMMD is comprised of a handful of character sketches. However, these character sketches can go on for dozens, or even (in the case of the notorious Mr. Spitzer section) hundreds of pages. A young girl, stewing with resentment at the baby in her belly and the loveless marriage that put it there. A woman who has spent decades in bed, meandering through opium-induced hallucinations. A fat old lawyer who is unsure whether he is himself, or in fact his twin brother, who committed suicide many years before. An adventurer and soldier in the war for women's suffrage, who scoffs at love but pines after a woman whom she lost on the slope of a distant mountain. A waitress at a small-town diner who is the lover of all men, eternally pregnant and perpetually giving birth to the stillborn, to dust and butterflies and smoke, or to nothing at all. And most of all, Miss MacIntosh herself, the ultra-Puritanical nanny who is ambiguously trans, agender, or maybe just an extraordinarily ugly old woman.

None of the extended 'sketches' of these characters is straightforward. In them, possibilities and actualities, realities and illusions intermingle. They might just be the groundless fancies of the narrator, Vera Cartwheel. Or, it might be that the reality of the novel is in itself ambiguous, overdetermined. The effect, in any case, is a kind of prose that is at once both meditative and hallucinatory. I've never read anything remotely like it.

This book has been grossly neglected. With Dalkey Archive set to give it its first reprinting in almost 30 years in late 2022, perhaps its time in the spotlight is soon to come. It would be a real shame if that doesn't happen. To my mind, MMMD should be ranked up there with all of the massive, ambitious experimental novels of the 20th century written by men: *Ulysses*, *The Recognitions*, *Gravity's Rainbow*, *Infinite Jest*, etc. It certainly made as much or more of an impact on me as these other books have. Unlike these other books, though, it doesn't attempt to dazzle you with its cleverness, with flashy verbal gymnastics or seemingly endless erudition. Young doesn't need all of that ostentation. Surely one of the reasons it isn't more well-known is that it doesn't flatter the reader seeking to find intellectual confirmation in big books. Yet, the literary genius on display in MMMD is no less impressive and transformational, for the reader who sticks with it.
Profile Image for Beth.
276 reviews
January 15, 2014
Vol. 2 - Miss MacIntosh, My Darling

Wow! What an epic novel. I truly took my time reading this one. I savored each line over a period of nine months, thirteen interceding books, six birthdays, five holidays, and an anniversary. So, what is my point? If you have the patience, it is a wonderful read.

What I enjoyed most about MMMD is the author’s painterly, dream-scape imagery. She created a panoramic impression of society in all its forms – pathological, illusionistic, and beautiful- as witnessed and understood by her characters. If you think Young’s portrayals chimerical, bear in mind that, her characters were depictions of people she knew during her lifetime.

Young’s love for poetry and words is evident. She has the ability to describe the same thing in many different ways. Although sometimes tedious, her work is definitely not boring. Each reconstruction feels new and separate from the other. The effect is richly developed characters whose experiences, eccentricities, delusions, and metaphysical journeys are fascinating.

It has been said that MMMD is the American version of Ulysses, a tribute to the unique characteristics of Young’s writing. Whatever the interpretation or review, my recommendation is to read this novel slowly and resign yourself to the fact that, if you want to understand the full scope of Young’s work, it will take a longer time to read than other books of this length. There is so much to absorb and think about on all different levels. However, do not panic, nine months was idiosyncratic to my love for this masterpiece. One to two months is typical for the average reader. Enjoy!
Profile Image for Cecilia.
70 reviews7 followers
January 24, 2015
I feel like this book needs a little bit of cheer-leading, so I'm throwing in my two-bits. William Goyen (NYT Book Review) wrote "The book's mysterious readability is effected through enchantment and hypnosis." I saw that quote on the back of the book about 1/4 of the way through Miss MacIntosh, My Darling (MMMD) and immediately thought "YES!" That's the thing about this book -- reading to one marker begets reading to the next marker and so on until 200 pages are past and you don't know what happened to you. MMMD is a sleeper. It lulls you in with repetition of words, ideas and symbolism but is never boring because there is always an air of mystery to the situation and characters. Is this a bildungsroman? Kind of; but everyone in the novel is going through change and maturing. Is this a only an internal psychological character dissection? No! There is plot action and movement.

The only thing that had me wary at first was the lack of discernable dialogue in the text. That quickly passed as I was absorbed into Young's style and realized she has her own unique way of having her characters communicate.

I don't go into plot in this review because I felt that is best left to revelation. You can read the Goodreads summary/Wiki article for the jist. Each character has a story to share; and those stories have their own paces, feelings, and worlds. They also each have their own surprises too. My only advice -- don't give up during the Spitzer section. I have read other reviewers who have written they they cut out hundreds of pages to make the book more readable. I don't know where and how. Seems like a travesty to the book and the intent of the author.

Now about the length -- sure, it's broken up into two volumes. OK, that's a little intimidating. Did you read 1Q84 by Murakami? It's only about 150 pages longer than that. It's definitely manageable. Don't dismiss this book because of the length. Great gifts come in all sizes. And Marguerite Young gave us a huge gift in MMMD, so maybe it's only appropriate that the novel is a tome.
Profile Image for Ferris.
1,505 reviews20 followers
July 23, 2013
Volume I of II.......At first I was absolutely mesmerized by the elegant,lyrical verbosity of this writer. Every sentence is so full of metaphor, simile, and incredible language. I know that this novel took the author 18 years to write and that portions were published in magazines along the way. I think it may be a novel best read in doses, allowing the reader to savor the writing and ponder the myriad of ideas touched upon throughout the tale. The stream of consciousness style takes the form way beyond Salman Rushdie and I thought he was amazing at it. The characters of Miss Mackintosh, Vera Cartwheel and her opium-addicted mother, and Cousin Hannah are primary, joined by a wide variety of interesting folk along the way. Plot? This novel requires patience and the ability to let go of preconceived notions of structure and plot. I have finished the first volume and am not certain of the plot...even after 600+ pages! Nonetheless, I am eager to return for volume II and to see where this all goes.

I am giving the novel 4 of five stars at this point, reserving the right to change my opinion after reading volume two. The diluted plot is the reason I give it four instead of five stars........let's see how this turns out!

Final Review:

Okay.....1197 pages later.....Do you think that it is possible that your entire life has actually been someone else's opium induced hallucination? If you are Miss MacIntosh, armed with your mackintosh, sturdy shoes, and 1950s Midwestern practical approach to life you would likely say, no way! Come back down to earth. Who really knows for sure?

This mammoth literary opus tackles the issue. Not surprisingly, it was published in the 1960's when it became cool to question absolutely everything, such as, where is the line between truth and fiction, between reality and illusion? Other issues include 200-300 page analyses of characters' psyches. Uh huh.....oi!

The writing is magnificent. The characters are simultaneously psychologically absurd, profound, terrifying, and impossible to fathom. Yep, an intellectual and literary feat of mastery.....and very difficult to read and digest.....and worth the enormous effort. Can you say contradiction!

If you rely on plot, do not turn to page one. Just step away from the novel. Otherwise, I recommend reading it in stages. Savor it.....do not let it make you suffer!
Profile Image for Matthias.
335 reviews8 followers
October 18, 2018
In a certain way this book is a companion to Proust's recherche - but with a search for a lost reality instead of a lost past. With little else to remember but dreams and self-contradicting episodes, the heroine attempts to break out of her fictitious world. For the typical reader, this is against their expectation: We are not lead into an alternate reality for relaxation, indulgement, mind expansion or whatever, but rather are exposed to a constant drone of "fictoids" (opposed to the already dubious "factoids") that resembles Kurt Schwitter's forgotten Dadaist prose.

Reading an extended work like this becomes a state of mind, which is only possible because the narrative is not complex so there is little to remember. There is no harm in putting the book away for a few weeks and then to continue on. So why read this at all? For one, there are passages of a stunning lyrical beauty. But more importantly, I have started to appreciate epic works as a form of meditation. This applies more often to long pieces of music (like Autechre's recent NTS sessions which last 8 hours). Experiencing this is like a very long walk in the woods or mountains and heals the soul.
Being susceptible for this is, I think, an essential requirement for being able to enjoy this book. There are very few people to whom I would recommend reading this book.
Profile Image for Rick Slane reads more reviews less.
577 reviews62 followers
August 19, 2021
I was almost halfway through this when I found this machine printed note tucked between the pages of the copy I borrowed from the Barry University library: Welcome to the pre-cyber world of MIss MacIntosh, my Darling. You are now in the exclusive club of people who have perused this book (no one , it seems, has ever read all 1200 pgs of it). First things first. It is not a novel. There is no story and no characters. It is a humongus prose poem. Start anywhere. Read a page or two. Repeat. Then put the book back on the shelf. Be glad you have not spent your life fruitlessly like Marguerite Young.

Among the handful of characters in the book were the two Mr. Spitzers and the narrator's opium addicted mother but I found the book to be less interesting than a combination of the worst of Proust and Gaddis.

Profile Image for Steven Felicelli.
Author 3 books60 followers
March 7, 2020
Williams comes to mind (Gaddis, Goyen, Faulkner, Blake) - lyrical tome a workshop would trim several hundred pages off - they won't make books like this any more, alas
Profile Image for Aubrey.
1,361 reviews795 followers
February 18, 2022
There are a number of works on my shelves that demonstrate the metamorphosis of my relationship with literature far more explicitly than one may consider possible when it comes to a self-contained, inanimate object. This particular piece is one of many that grabbed ahold of my interest while I was deep in the bowels of various interlinked communities but only surfaced in my commitments long after I had left each and every one of them. A loss, perhaps, but having waited on the plunge for nearly a decade, I can look over the references flung out on the back of each volume of this duo tomed set and think alright, alright, sure, whatever. Vonnegut, Kosinkski, Joyce, Broch, Melville, Faulkner, Nin, The Waves, whatever "ancient Hindu painting" is supposed to connote: all very presumptuously impressive and bombastically esoteric, but I've committed to my fair share of such and even loved some of it throughout past, present, and future, and when I read this book, I think far more of the especial breed of USA nonsense that consists of the mewling, puking lies of a violent child forever sorry for itself and forever hateful towards those that refuse to give up their toys forever and ever than I do of all those names and then some. Perhaps it would have been different if I had never watched and grown sick of the sort of sensational, puritanical fearmongering found in shows such as True Detective or Twin Peaks, or if I hadn't successfully gotten through three of the four Great Chinese Novels within the last five years and know what it means for a tale to successfully support itself for thousands of pages and leave the reader sad that it is over. The world will never know.

I've sent enough years in both the culture and the profession of reading to know better than to treat with it all, as so many do, as if it were a series of pilgrimages ever in pursuit of the holy grail. I also don't cheapen it into a "whatever works" fanfare of the blasé, for the lack of information literacy in the throes of capitalism is a true and present danger in my own country, and I can promise you that the more complacent chunks of the oppressive status quo would be a lot less comfortable if every single child in the US had access to early literacy skills when it was most paramount for them to have such. So, if a reader tells me that they made their way through this entire thing and loved it as a result, that's their perfect freedom to do so. If, however, they seek to imply that, because I was the opposite in evaluation if not in commitment, I must have done something wrong, I'm afraid it will be impossible for me to take them seriously. This is a piece that certainly has plenty of time to hint at the more interesting facets of life that don't fall under the banal skein of subjects that most well to do pieces of writing confine themselves to, but every time there's a threat of such an object turning into subject, it suddenly becomes another 400 pages of the white collar white boy white-boying his way around the limited sphere of the descendants of imperial wealth and all their performative consumerism, with added dashes of magical disabled, magical Negro, magical rape victim, magical queer, and magical addict to break up the WASP tedium that has never forgiven itself for not still belonging to the acceptable parts of Europe and thinks that everything right with the world ended with the war of 1812. Coming as I did right off the tail end of Neuman's Traveler of the Century, it was easier to see when careless flingings at "unions" were nothing more than titillating tidbits for the more socially inclined, when the expanses of history were boiled down to more rote memorizations rather than built up into superbly engaging arguments towards a better tomorrow, when, in short, words were written because the writer had the social stability necessary for having nothing better to do, not because they had to be. It's the sort of material that makes me laugh when the elitists of my country heap scorn on the mournful teenagers of Hot Topic and the benighted adults of Walmart, for this is the sort of piece that wallows in the exigencies of both. What saving grace it has is as an artifact for a particular kind of overeducated white person who thought that hiding away in the bowels of verbiage would save them from the realities of both world and time, and if that's your kind of thing, have at it. Just don't tell me that it has to be mine.

Apparently a popular sticking point for this work is its prose, but such didn't do it for me. I'm surprised by Nin holding to it, one who despite the issues I have with her truly has a marvelous grasp on literary artistry even when at her most Eurocentrically obtuse, but having read four volumes of her (admittedly heavily abrogated) diaries, I have to wonder how much of this was kindred interest, and how much of it was for the sake of social networking and other, more explicit means of financial stabilization. Besides her and Woolf, it's admittedly been a while since I've tangoed with some of the more polyphonous names mentioned above, but fortune has it that I finally have Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! lined up for starting within the next month or so, so at least I'll be able to do some baseline comparisons while the memory of this is still fresh. In any case, it took nine years to traverse the act of adding and the commitment to reading and another month and a half to read this, and all I can say is, I came, I saw, and I'm glad to move on. For those wondering where they should go from here, I'd recommend Silko's Almanac of the Dead. It has its own labels of "difficult," "grotesque," and "American," but unlike with this, you might actually learn a thing or two worth knowing by the time you reach the end.
Profile Image for Albert.
116 reviews2 followers
May 11, 2009
Really, what's with the value/rating fetish, Goodreads (and everybody else)? I give infinite unstars to everything. No superlatives please. I'm sure nothing I can say is going to convince you to read fourteen hundred pages. If you like lists, commas, opium and a little sonic texture, you might get into this. There's a good deal of repetition going on throughout, but I think it plays the same role as in a poem, i.e. builds tone with emphatic gesture.
Profile Image for Ian "Marvin" Graye.
875 reviews2,273 followers
Want to read
April 4, 2017
A Waste of Cyberspace

TL;DR. I might have wasted my $7 on this so-called "novel".

Instead of writing something more substantive, I'll refer you to an honest review that doesn't eulogise the sheer bulk of words as if it was some kind of godsend.
354 reviews43 followers
February 12, 2017
Beautiful and ridiculously enjoyable and dreamily digressive and pænunputdownable: actual review forthcoming...
Profile Image for Elise.
897 reviews66 followers
October 13, 2014
Margeurite Young, where have you been all my life? Well, you've been dead...or are you really still alive and tucked away in hiding in some opium den under the sea? That is precisely what Miss MacIntosh, My Darling is about, things not always being what they seem and the uncertain, gray spaces in between extremes being the most fertile places to play--life and death, dark and light, male and female, imagination and reality, and the pregnant silence between two notes in a musical composition.

Catherine Cartwheel, the Opium Lady, is mistakenly thought dead when her obituary appears in the newspaper, but she is still very much alive, inviting imaginary kings, sultans, and bandits to dinner every night at her derelict castle by the sea. Does Catherine live only in her mind? Maybe, but she never fails to have her table set with fine china, twelve formal place settings, every night for her imaginary guests. Catherine's daughter, Vera (whose name is rooted in the Latin "Veritas" for truth), fixates on Miss MacIntosh, the common sense nanny from What Cheer, Iowa, hired to care for her because dear Miss MacIntosh is Vera's only link to the "real" world, or is she? Oh Miss MacIntosh, you are certainly no Mary Poppins, black umbrella notwithstanding. You are more like Mary Poppin's counterpart, rooted in reality rather than fantasy/imagination, and with a wicked streak of insanity, as you force Vera to brave the elements in all kinds of weather, for example, sitting in rooms with all of the windows open during fierce winter blizzards, not to mention your diatribes against "electric light" because it steals our sleep, interferes with our privacy, and breaks up marriages because now we can see our spouses for who they really are, and some of them are ugly.

Then there is the Opium Lady's lawyer, Mr. Spitzer, the surviving member of a set of twins who fears the light (while his dead twin, the gambler, fears the dark). Mr. Spitzer roams city streets at night in search of unsuspecting heirs to fortunes lost or forgotten. On one of his late night rambles, Mr. Spitzer meets a deaf mute who houses a pet frog in his mouth, as the frog speaks for him. And later, we learn of cross-eyed waitress, Esther Longtree, who keeps finding herself pregnant with stillborn children by travelling salesmen. At one point, Esther sees blackbirds flying out of her womb. These are the strange and wonderful things I love about Miss MacIntosh--the surreal, dreamlike quality of the book along with the gorgeous, imagistic, prose that reads like rich poetry sustained throughout all 1200 pages. However, at times, I didn't think I would finish this book because there was oh so much repetition, which seemed unecessary and in need of serious editing.

So why did I finish it? Because Miss MacIntosh felt like a work of great literary significance the whole time I was reading it--richly allusive to literary works which preceded it and almost prophetic of works published long afterward, both literary and popular. Miss MacIntosh was submitted for publication in 1964 and came out in 1965, and in it I saw Prince's Purple Rain, Led Zepplin's Stairway to Heaven, Murakami's two moon world in 1Q84, the swan bed from V.C. Andrew's Flowers in the Attic, as well as a few ominous warnings about global warming and the massive scope that the Vietnam War would take on. I wouldn't say that all of these artists were necessarily directly influenced by Marguerite Young's masterpiece, but maybe she was so tuned into the collective unconscious that this book resonated for years after it was first published. I recommend it...I think. It was mostly a pleasure, but it could also at times feel like a punishment, an albatross of sorts. Maybe it's something to take with you if you need to spend a long time at jury duty, in a safe house, or in prison. Even still, after you read it, you will be glad you did. And even though I checked it out of my local public library, Miss MacIntosh, My Darling is shelf-worthy, worth owning, because of Young's dizzyingly gorgeous passages and fascinating character studies.
Profile Image for Whitney.
105 reviews70 followers
August 18, 2019
If there is a book that fits the definition of "slow read", this one is it. Every sentence is densely packed with description. As others have said, there is lots of repetition, but it's repetition with variations, contradictions, and paradoxes. There is not much in the way of conventional plot, any meaning you find in this book is in those paradoxes and lengthy descriptions. I read this with a group over a summer, one chapter a day. Anyone wanting to give this a try, I recommend getting the notes written for each chapter by the leader of the reading, available here: Reading Notes for Miss MacIntosh, My Darling .

Obviously, not a book for everyone. But completely unique, reading it is an experience that will never be replicated. Rather than fumble for more words, I'll quote someone far more eloquent than me, the poet Stanley Kunitz.

"In everything she writes Marguerite Young is a poet and an original. I think of her as an inspired interpreter of the transformational myths that underlie the American adventure, and as one of the most eloquent of witnesses to the to the mystery and beauty of human existence."


Profile Image for Edward Butler.
Author 22 books93 followers
Currently reading
December 1, 2020
Finally in-progress in earnest with this massive, incredible book, seemingly perfect in every word.
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