There is this expression: "larger than life", that we liberally use about a lot of people. Never have I felt I misunderstood that expression more than after reading Shy, by and about Mary Rodgers, with Jesse Green doing the writing, after years of conversations with her. She had like five children by the age of 32, had written the music for at least one world renowned musical, had several husbands, some of them gay, was smart, articulate, hard working and artistic. I feel like the life of everyone I know, including my own, is the size and quality of an ant compared to hers.
And wouldn't you know it, as daughter of Richard Charles Rodgers, who might not be famous now, but he was a giant then, she actually lived in the shadow of her parents all of her life.
I can't do justice to the book in this review. I absolutely loved it. The conversational, open descriptions of the artistic world, the Jewish world, the personal, the marital, all happening at the same time: children, deaths, marriages, adultery, Hollywood movies, books, Broadway shows, famous musical compositions, parties, celebrities, wonderful things, nasty things and everything in between, all of that was just mind blowing.
And even more amazing was how fun the entire thing was. I am partial to memoirs, but some of them tend to be bland or feel totally fake. Not this one. It's fun from the beginning to end, covering with raucous abandon her relationship with parents (still calling them Daddy and Mommy when she was 82 years old), her husbands and children, her coworkers and mentors, her life from childhood to her old age, her work and her toils, the deaths of dear people.
She was born as the daughter of rich Jewish artistic royalty, but she worked her ass off from the beginning. In a world that wasn't particularly kind to her, she never complained, just got on with it. It was funny her remark, at a pretty old age, about how maybe she was a victim of misogyny, but she had no idea at the time and no time to think about it like that.
Even filled with references and footnotes, 800 pages is both a lot and quite little to cover 80 years of life. The chapters are short, lively and only in a vague chronological order. In the last chapter, written by Jesse Green in his own voice, he describes how she was stuck on writing this memoir because she felt uncomfortable about a few things that she didn't want to talk about. She was so honest and direct.
I could keep writing, but I would be saying very little. Just read the book. I can't recommend it enough. Wonderful person, wonderful book.