The Art of the Affair
by Catherine Lacey and Forsyth Harmon
c.2017, Bloomsbury; $20; 88 pages
It’s all about who you know.
The guy who bags your groceries might have stock tips for you. A co-worker introduces you to your next best friend. You find a great restaurant from your stylist, a new job from a former classmate, and your neighbor gives you gardening advice. It’s all about who you know or, as in the new book The Art of the Affair by Catherine Lacy and Forsyth Harmon, it’s who you’ve dallied with.
Somehow, in some way, the people you meet leave fingerprints on your life. A laugh you’ll never forget, a bon mot you’ll quote, or even an attitude can be a memorable springboard for an idea.
That goes doubly for creative types, for whom romantic (or platonic) relationships, their “carnage of affairs” could lead to “countless works of art.” These unions, whether legal or otherwise, also left a tangle of threads between many artists and writers.
Essayist and editor Edmund Wilson, for instance, helped launch the career of Anaïs Nin, who later wrote erotica. Nin was “unapologetic about her… affairs,” of which there were many, including a banker, “probably a homosexual,” and novelist and playwright Gore Vidal, who himself had “a short affair” with writer James Baldwin, who called another man “the love of his life.”
Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington both collaborated professionally with Grammy-winner Ella Fitzgerald, but it was Marilyn Monroe who helped boost Fitzgerald’s career. Monroe talked the owner of an L.A. nightclub into booking the singer, and she attended each of Fitzgerald’s performances there. Monroe, of course, had her share of affairs, too, as well as a friendship with Truman Capote, who was repeatedly insulted by none other than Tennessee Williams.
Williams was no fan of Tallulah Bankhead, and the two publicly snarked at one another for years. Bankhead was an exhibitionist and didn’t care who saw her naked—which, presumably, included her lover, Billie Holiday.
Oh, and playwright Williams…? He was a friend of Gore Vidal, who also knew Truman Capote and Anaïs Nin…
Did you ever go somewhere with someone who seems to know everybody? That’s what it’s like to read The Art of the Affair.
Author Catherine Lacey and illustrator Forsyth Harmon play a sort of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon in their book—except, not surprisingly, Bacon isn’t here. Instead, readers are taken back many decades to look at the dalliances and relationships of artists and stars of the early Twentieth century, and because very few contemporary artists grace these pages, there may be many times when you won’t recognize the people among the threads. That can be remedied through inference, but a better explanation (at least for some artists) might have been nice, as would an index.
Still, I liked the tidbits in this book, the mini-factlets between ties, and the obvious delight that author and artist lend to the love affairs they so diligently discovered. Light, gossipy, and a little scandalous, The Art of the Affair shows that it’s who you know that’s important—and I know you’ll like it.